On July 12, Pioneer Playhouse will present the world premiere of Good Blues Tonight!, an original play written by Robby Henson that brings together many voices in an uplifting celebration of an unsung piece of Danville’s history. The play will run through July 23.
For nearly a century, one small block of Second Street in downtown Danville was the undisputed hub of African-American business and social life. During the years of segregation, African-American-owned restaurants, beauty parlors, doctor’s offices, social clubs, and movie theaters thrived in a small but vibrant section of this small town.
With the spread of integration during the 1960s, Second Street’s businesses began a slow decline that culminated in a 1971 Urban Renewal project that destroyed many of the block’s landmarks. Now, even though the buildings are gone, patrons of Pioneer Playhouse can catch a glimpse of Second Street in its heyday by watching Good Blues Tonight!
Set in 1956, Good Blues Tonight! opens with the death of the community’s patriarch, Big Walter, and collectors knocking at the door to take over his Dorian Hall, a fixture on the block. Out of nowhere, a smooth-talking stranger named Chrysler appears and rallies the Second Street citizens to stage a fundraising blues show featuring the legendary “Chitlin’ Circuit” diva, Big Mama Thornton. But are Chrysler’s intentions true, or is he just a con man looking for his next mark? As the townspeople try to separate fact from fiction, an assorted group of singers and musicians, both black and white, come together to create an inspirational and unforgettable blues show of their own.
In keeping with the play’s theme of togetherness, Good Blues Tonight! features a diverse group of performers. Joining the regular Playhouse company will be a mix of locals and non-locals, singers, musicians, comedians–and one beauty queen.
Miss Kentucky 2015 Clark Janell Davis, a Lexington native who studies vocal performance at the University of Kentucky (under famed music director Everett McCorvey), stars alongside Mari Harris, a Minneapolis-based singer, songwriter and actress, who was last seen in the Playhouse production of The Infamous Ephraim. Also appearing will be ZRock 103 DJ Joe Deuce, a popular stand-up comedian who has opened for Etta May, and Joshua Jerome, a Centre College graduate originally from Boston, now working in Centre Admissions.
Rounding out the large ensemble cast will be Pioneer Playhouse regulars Erika S. Lee, Michael Hampton, Liam McDermott, and long-time fan favorite Patricia Hammond. Local singer and songwriter Michael Evces will be playing guitar and making his acting debut.
Good Blues Tonight! is the third show in the Pioneer Playhouse 2016 season line-up. It will run from July 12-23 as the latest offering in the historic theater’s annual “Kentucky Voices” original play series, celebrating Kentucky’s unique past and present.
Featuring live blues and gospel music, Good Blues Tonight! was written by Robby Henson, whose award-winning films include Pharoah’s Army and The Badge. Henson, artistic director of the Playhouse, is also the author of the previous “Kentucky Voices” hit, The Wonder Team.
Along with nightly performances, there will be an exhibition of old photographs and special “memory nights” at the Playhouse presented by Michael Hughes and others from the Danville-Boyle County African-American Historical Society, whose research helped inspire this play. Local organizations like the Heart of Danville and the Boyle County Public Library will also be involved in these special events.
Good Blues Tonight! will be performed nightly, Tuesday through Thursday, July 12-23. Show begins at 8:30 pm, while a BBQ dinner is available at 7:30 pm before the play. Tickets are $18 for show only; $32 for dinner and show. Call the box office at 859-236-2747 or go online to purchase tickets.