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LA Theater Review

Dark Legends in Blood

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The greatest blues singers are in trouble. One is about to be killed, and another may be the murderer. Writer-director Maurice Kitchen has combined two genres-the musical revue and the murder mystery-to create possibly the first show of its kind. Both genres are on display, but the quality level varies wildly between the two. The cast of talented singers delivers an enjoyable concert, but the mystery plot is unoriginal. The performers, when not singing, are wooden. And the clunky direction, particularly during the climax, all but eliminates any potential suspense and humor.

While the script and its execution are flawed, the concept of Legends is solid. The story opens with a sound check for the evening's concert, starring Lena Horne (Cheryl Carter), Billie Holliday (Sloan Robinson), Etta James (Pam Trotter), Cab Calloway (Jesse Bolero), and Louis Jordan (Lawrence Hill). The iconic singers and the show's host, Billy Gamble (Darryl Alan Reed), share secrets and snipes before beginning a 45-minute concert of classic tunes, such as "At Last" and "God Bless the Child," interspersed with vaudevillian comedy bits. The final song is followed by the untimely demise of one star and the appearance of a cop named Brent (Les Lannom).

All five singers nail the voice and style of their characters, offering electrifying performances of the songs for which the original artists were known. Highlights include Carter's powerhouse rendition of "Stormy Weather" and Trotter's sultry "At Last." But when the music stops, the action also grinds to a halt. Each cast member seems lost onstage, unsure of what to say, what emotions to convey, or where to stand. Much of the problem stems from the script, which is merely a series of obvious clues such as those found in each episode of Murder, She Wrote. The comic lines are stale, and the police interrogation quickly gets old. You may not be able to figure out who did it before the mystery gets solved, but it's likely you won't care.

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