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|True Colors explores life of bisexual blues legend|
|Written by Jim Farmer|
|Friday, 01 October 2010 00:00|
The lives of two music legends come to Atlanta stages this week in two new productions, one directed by a gay man and the other starring a gay actor.
The warts and all life story of blues singer Bessie Smith is presented in True Color’s world premiere production of “Gut Bucket Blues.”
Smith was regarded as the most famous female blues singer of the ’20s and ’30s, but her life was anything but straightforward. The musical is directed by former Atlantan David H. Bell, who served as the associate artistic director under Kenny Leon for a number of years at the Alliance Theatre.
The openly gay Bell says he has long been a fan of the singer, but his research gave him a new appreciation. He had been working on a Bessie Smith show for a while when Leon called him about collaborating — and the musical became a reality. Bell left the Alliance roughly around the time Leon did. The two had formed a great partnership and always vowed to work together again.
The musical is told in flashbacks, where Bessie’s brother is waiting for her body to return. (Smith died in a nasty automobile accident). Bell says for all the bravado she brought to her recordings, she lived hard and fast.
“She did not care what people thought of her,” says Bell. “She was an angel on stage, but generated bad news and was often scandalous. Like Lindsay Lohan, she was famous for being notorious.”
“Gut Bucket Blues” does not skimp on Smith’s bisexuality.
“Her bisexuality is an important part of the show,” Bell says. “It was part of her life. She did anything that felt good.”
The friendship Smith had with Ma Rainey is also depicted.
Bell feels this musical will have enormous appeal for gay audiences.
“Bessie was real,” he says. “She was a diva icon for her ability to sing and her ability not to apologize. She told people what she really thought. She had the courage to live without apology — she never apologized for being country, or bisexual or gaudy or tasteless.”
This week, actor Eric Jordan Young also opens in the one-man show “Sammy and Me” at the Alliance. It’s a musical about Sammy Davis Jr. the unorthodox singer who performed for decades.
Young, a longtime Davis fan, started readying “Sammy and Me” six years ago and is excited to be able to stage it here.
The show features many of Davis’s signature songs — 15 in all — as well as dance numbers. The goal, of course, is to take this to other cities and then hopefully Broadway.
Davis, a fixture of the Rat Pack, eventually died of throat cancer in 1990. What Young thinks audiences will take from the show is Davis’ individuality.
“This show is really about the choices we make in our life, the choices that are ours,” he says. “Sammy didn’t care what others thought; he didn’t care if he fit in. He was himself and he persevered. He made his own rules.”
Finally, the crowd-pleaser “Dreamgirls” kicks off the Atlanta Broadway Series’ 2010-2011 season. Loosely based on Diana Ross and the Supremes, this new version of “Dreamgirls” incorporates the popular song “Listen” from the Academy-Award winning movie into its second act.
‘Gut Bucket Blues’
‘Sammy and Me’
Top photo: ‘Gut Bucket Blues’ examines the life of unapologetic early blues icon Bessie Smith. (by Chris Bartelski)
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