You say you don’t know about Dinah Washington, but you do. More likely you’ve heard the voice but didn’t know it was hers. “Dinah” a dazzling revue about the legendary blues singer, Dinah Washington, is the latest offering of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, will run through April 5.
Ernest McCarty is composer, director and playwright of this play set during the last year of the short life of the remarkable woman called the Queen of the Blues. “Dinah” includes a riveting array of musical numbers and biographical vignettes.
This show provides a powerful insight into the tragic and often controversial life of one of the most popular African American singers of the 1950s.
Be prepared for some spontaneous toe-tapping grown-folk music with a rhythm section that features Lou Stellute on saxophone, Andrew Kirk on drums, Miles Jackson on bass and the multi-talented McCarty on keyboards. Songs that are familiar (and new to the under-50 set) are the pulse and the narrative for adventure back to a time when music artists played real instruments and performed without the distractions of auto-tune, pre-recorded tracks or dancers.
A fine ensemble of talent are the backdrop serving as supporting characters set the stage for the star of the show, Delana Flowers. A veteran of Kuntu Repertory Theatre and New Horizon Theatre, the Lancaster, PA-native has performed with a variety of local show bands. All of that experience prepared her to be front and center in her first starring role. Speaking of firsts, “Dinah” is marking its world premiere.
Flowers nails it with her strong voice and arrangements are suited to her vocals. The storyline is surface, but includes details from her encounters with Jim Crow, her numerous marriages to men who wanted her to be the Dinah Washington who sings of being an “Evil Woman,” while she really wanted to be Ruth Jones.
Her personal life is fodder for the press and to maintain her weight she takes diet pills which eventually takes her life at 39. Like Billie Holliday, she was gone much too soon.
The rest of the cast shines as each ones assumes multiple roles. Stephanie Akers as Mama Alice Jones and Cheryl El-Walker as her dresser/assistant La Rue Mann bring the realness that women-folk share with one another.
Les Howard is in fine voice as Brook Benton. He has the chops and stage presence necessary to share the same stage as Flowers, as do Akers and El-Walker as Dinah’s background singers “The Dinettes. Leo Beatty as Dick “Night Train” Lane, Washington’s last husband and Ijazneem as the emcee and offstage voices are more than complimentary.
Pittsburgh has an abundance of talent and artistic vision to bring many stories and songs that keep our culture alive. And it’s appropo that this production makes its debut during Women’s History Month.
Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s production of “Dinah” continues through April 5, The March 23 performance is Pay-What-You-Can at the door only. For performance times and tickets information call 412-377-7803.