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QUEEN OF THE BLUES

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It would seem difficult to take a cast of talented jazz and blues singers, add classic American standards, and end up with an unmitigated disaster. But that is exactly what writer-director Jerry Jones has done with his two-act revue. Billed as a tribute to deceased legend Dinah Washington, this two-hour-plus production—which began a staggering 50 minutes late—is more frustrating than the average theatrical train wreck. That's because, mixed in with stilted, hackneyed dialogue, cardboard acting, and criminally negligent direction, there are at least a dozen exciting musical performances.

The play's razor-thin plot follows Dinah Washington (Margarett Floyd) from her beginnings as a blues singer, through her series of failed marriages and addiction to drugs and alcohol, to her death. Along the way she meets other singing stars, such as Billie Holiday (Denise Stewart), Anita O'Day (Tita Farrar), Frank Sinatra (Rick Dano), and Brook Benton (Phil Edwards). Most of the 23 scenes include Washington launching into nonsensical tirades and drinking large quantities of liquor, or Holiday stumbling around and talking about drugs. These embarrassing, seemingly improvised incidents are followed by "concert appearances." Jones' script offers no insight, no surprises, and nothing of interest, but his choice of songs is solid.

Floyd is an impressive singer, and her rendition of "What a Difference a Day Makes" is one of several soulful and elegant ones in the show. But her acting is embarrassing. She missed at least two entrances, one of which left the stage empty for a full minute. Though her character is supposed to be an alcoholic, it still seemed out of character for Floyd to frequently be rude to the audience and to the person in the tech booth for not playing the canned music loudly enough. Stewart, also a remarkable singer, shows no abilities as an actor other than to stagger and fall. Farrar and Dano, happily, did not have to recite much dialogue and instead let their veteran jazz voices do the talking. Overall, the responsibility for several missed cues and blank stares by the cast lies at Jones' feet. If he had gathered these fine singers around a piano and simply let them sing, that would have been a fitting tribute to Washington and her friends. What he chose to do is a disgrace.

"Queen of the Blues," presented by the Call for Peace Foundation at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 5 pm. Feb. 4-Mar. 13. $25. (323) 933-9726.

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