From now until April 22, Herberger Theater welcomes “Low Down Dirty Blues” to give a performance that celebrates some of the greatest blues singers of all time.
Produced by Arizona Theatre Company, the theatrical musical features Tony-nominated Felicia P. Fields as “Big Mama,” Chic Street Man as “Jelly Roll Martin” and Shake Anderson as “Shake.” They all come together at Big Mama’s house after a night of working at a club to talk and lament about the blues. Fields says it’s a very light story, more musical than theatrical.
“I was extremely familiar with the blues,” Anderson says. “I grew up listening to the great blues singers in my house. Life is the blues if you’re a musician… I’m a ‘mactor’ [musician and actor]. I’m a combination. I’m a double threat.”
All three consider themselves both actors and singers. Fields says even when she is singing, she’s both acting and singing with a passion that exists especially in blues.
The actor singers all come from a background of music. Fields sang gospel most of her life and that genre inhabits the same space as blues, she says. Street Man’s mother was a blues and gospel singer. Anderson mentioned above that he grew up listening to blues. While they were all familiar with the sound, they agree you need to connect it to personal experiences in order for it to be performed.
“I have similar stories [as the characters] in my background,” Anderson says. “I grew up without my father. We were poor. I grew up in a time especially in a city where it wasn’t the most racially equal. I went on the road when I was really young. People who sing the blues they relate their own lives to what’s already come before them.”
Fields says she hopes guests will come to the theater and leave their worries behind for a couple hours. She says Big Mama’s house is a place to release and enjoy yourself.
“I would like the people to understand our experience may not be an experience they have had in their lives,” Street Man says. “If we can cross over ethnic lines, we can break down walls and barriers and build bridges and see that we have a lot in common. We can share and experience each other’s beauty.”
“Low Down Dirty Blues” will be performed at Herberger Theater in Phoenix from now until April 22. For more information, including where to buy tickets, go to herbergertheater.org.
TED SIMONS: ARIZONA THEATRE COMPANY'S PRODUCTION OF "LOW DOWN DIRTY BLUES" IS NOW PLAYING AT THE HERBERGER THEATER CENTER. THE PRODUCTION EARNED RAVE REVIEWS AND BROKE RECORDS DURING ITS TUCSON RUN. THE SHOW REFLECTS THE IMPACT OF THE BLUES ON AMERICAN MUSIC.
TED SIMONS: WE SPOKE TO THREE OF THE PLAY'S STARS, FELICIA P. FIELDS, WHO PLAYS "BIG MAMA," CHIC STREET MAN, WHO PORTRAYS "JELLY ROLL MARTIN," AND SHAKE ANDERSON, WHO PLAYS "SHAKE."
TED SIMONS: THANK YOU ALL FOR JOINING US HERE ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." IT'S GREAT TO HAVE YOU HERE.
FELICIA P. FIELDS: GOOD TO BE HERE.
TED SIMONS: DESCRIBE "LOW DOWN DIRTY BLUES?"
FELICIA P. FIELDS: IT'S A BIT OF AN INSIGHT TO WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE PARTY, AFTER WE WORKED ALL NIGHT AT A CLUB, AND WE COME BACK. WE COME TO BIG MAMA'S HOUSE AND TALK AND LAMENT ABOUT THE BLUES. A LITTLE BIT ABOUT DIFFERENT INFORMATION ABOUT DIFFERENT SINGERS AND EACH ONE OF US, AS TO HOW WE CAME TOGETHER.
TED SIMONS: CHIC, I HEAR YOU PLAYING OVER HERE. YOU PLAY WELL. IS THIS A PLAY? IS IT A REVIEW? WHAT IS IT?
CHIC STREET MAN: IT'S MUSICAL THEATER. WE HAVE LINES IN THERE. WE INTERSPERSE EVERYTHING WITH A FEW LINES HERE AND THERE.
FELICIA P. FIELDS: LET ME GIVE YOU HISTORY ABOUT EACH OF THE PEOPLE THAT ARE IN BIG MAMA'S HOUSE, AND HOW THEY GOT CONNECTED TO THE BLUES.
TED SIMONS: SO THERE WAS A STORY.
SHAKE ANDERSON: A VERY LIGHT STORY. IT'S ALL SET IN BIG MAMA'S HOUSE.
FELICIA P. FIELDS: AS YOU CAN SEE.
TED SIMONS: I DIDN'T THINK SHAKE OVER THERE WAS BIG MAMA.
SHAKE ANDERSON: LET THERE BE NO CONFUSION.
TED SIMONS: NO CONFUSION.
FELICIA P. FIELDS: THEY LIKE IT WHEN WE CALL HIM BIG PAPA.
TED SIMONS: HOW FAMILIAR WERE YOU WITH THE BLUES BEFORE THIS PRODUCTION?
SHAKE ANDERSON: I WAS EXTREMELY FAMILIAR WITH IT. I GREW UP LISTENING TO A LOT OF THE BLUE'S SINGERS. THE SONGS I DID NOT KNOW WERE -- I DID NOT KNOW ALL OF THE LYRICS, BUT I KNEW THE SONGS.
TED SIMONS: THIS IS SOMETHING YOU GREW UP WITH. YOU LIVED WITH THIS.
SHAKE ANDERSON: LIFE IS THE BLUES IF YOU ARE A MUSICIAN.
TED SIMONS: THAT IS TRUE. ARE YOU A MUSICIAN OR AN ACTOR?
SHAKE ANDERSON: I AM A MACTOR. I AM A DOUBLE THREAT, TRIPLE THREAT. I DO SECURITY JANITORIAL.
TED SIMONS: ALL RIGHT. LET ME ASK SOMEONE NOMINATED FOR A TONY IF SHE IS AN ACTOR OR A SINGER?
FELICIA P. FIELDS: I CONSIDER MYSELF TO BE AN ACTOR/ SINGER.
TED SIMONS: IN THIS PLACE, YOU ARE AN ACTOR, SINGER. YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF ACTING WHEN YOU ARE SINGING LIKE THAT?
FELICIA P. FIELDS: THERE IS A PASSION THAT EXISTS EVEN IN THE BLUES, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE BLUES.
TED SIMONS: THAT LEADS ME TO THE NEXT QUESTION. CHIC, WHAT IS THE BLUES?
CHIC STREET MAN: IT IS AN EXPRESSION OF YOU. WHO CAN PLAY THE BLUES? IT COMES FROM THE EXPERIENCE YOU HAVE IN LIFE. MY MOTHER WAS A BLUES SINGER, A GOSPEL SINGER. WHEN I WAS NINE YEARS OLD, I SAID I WANT TO SING THE BLUES. SHE SAID YOU COULD NOT SING THE BLUES. IT MADE ME REALIZE IT HAS TO COME FROM YOUR OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. I HAD NOT LIVED WHERE MY MOM AND DAD HAD LIVED AND HAD THE EXPERIENCES THEY HAD. I HAD TO LET WHATEVER CAME OUTCOME FROM MY OWN EXPERIENCES.
TED SIMONS: THAT'S INTERESTING. SAME THING FOR YOU? YOU ARE SINGING SONGS. ALL OF THESE FAMOUS LONG TIME BLUES PEOPLE THAT LIVED A DIFFERENT LIFE, GENERALLY, THAN YOU ARE LIVING NOW. HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH IT? HOW DO YOU MAKE IT WORK? HOW DO YOU HAVE THEM SING THROUGH YOU?
SHAKE ANDERSON: A LOT OF THEIR STORIES, I HAVE SIMILAR STORIES IN MY BACKGROUND. I GREW UP WITHOUT A FATHER. WE WERE POOR. I GREW UP IN A TIME AND A CITY THAT WAS NOT ON THE MOST RACIALLY EQUAL TERMS, AND I WENT ON THE ROAD WHEN I WAS YOUNG. MOST PEOPLE THAT SING THE BLUES RELATE THEIR OWN LIVES TO WHAT HAS COME BEFORE THEM.
TED SIMONS: WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED SINGING THE BLUES, WERE YOU SURPRISED WHAT WAS COMING OTT OF YOU? WERE YOU LIKE, MY GOODNESS?
FELICIA P. FIELDS: NO, I SANG BLUES AND GOSPEL. BLUES AND GOSPEL INHABIT THE SAME SPACE. THERE IS A SONG CALLED DEATH LETTER. I HAVE HEARD IT SUNG BY A BUNCH OF PEOPLE. EACH TIME YOU HEAR IT, YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT VERSION EVERY TIME. THE SONG LIVES BECAUSE IT IS CONNECTED TO YOUR PASSION. WHAT YOU HAVE CONNECTED TO THE SONG TO MAKE IT MOVING FOR YOU. ALONE, IT IS JUST A SONG, BUT UNTIL YOU HAVE THE EMOTIONAL CONNECTION, IT IS DIFFERENT EVERY TIME YOU HEAR IT.
TED SIMONS: IS IT DIFFERENT FOR YOU EVERY TIME YOU SING IT?
FELICIA P. FIELDS: EVERY TIME.
TED SIMONS: WHEN YOU PERFORM IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE HERE IN PHOENIX, CAN YOU FEEL THAT CONNECTION -- ARE THERE TIMES THE AUDIENCE ISN'T GETTING IT? ARE THERE TIMES THEY GET IT FROM THE GIT GO?
CHIC STREET MAN: BOTH. MANY TIMES, IT DEPENDS ON WHAT WE GIVE TO THEM, WHICH HAS TO DO WITH WHAT WE ARE ABLE TO GIVE TO THEM. IT IS A SHARING EXPERIENCE. THEY FEED OFF WHAT WE GIVE THEM AND WE FEED OFF WHAT THEY GIVE US.
FELICIA P. FIELDS: SOMETIMES THEY CAN DRAIN YOU, DEPENDING ON THE ENERGY THEY ARE PUTTING FORTH. YOU HAVE CROWDS THAT ARE EXUBERANT, AND THEY KEEP YOUR ENGINE MOVING. THEN THERE ARE THOSE THAT YOU TRY TO HARD TO WIN THEM OVER, THAT IT'S NOT AS ENJOYABLE FOR YOU AS IT SHOULD BE.
TED SIMONS: CAN YOU FEEL IT AS YOU ARE PLAYING, AS YOU ARE SINGING ON THAT STAGE?
SHAKE ANDERSON: YES, AND I AM LEARNING A LOT FROM THESE TWO GUYS. IT IS AMAZING WHAT I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO -- WHAT I AM SEEING. I AM NOT SURE I AM PICKING UP EVERYTHING. THESE GUYS ARE PHENOMENAL. I AM NEW TO THIS.
TED SIMONS: WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING?
SHAKE ANDERSON: I AM LEARNING TO PERFORM ON STAGE AND SEE THE AUDIENCE THE WAY THE DIRECTOR SEES THE AUDIENCE. FOR ME, THAT IS A BIG PIECE OF ACTING. WHEN YOU GREW UP SINGING, YOU FIND ONE OR TWO PEOPLE AND FOCUS ON THEM AND DELIVER TO THEM. IN THE THEATER, YOU HAVE TO DELIVER TO EVERYBODY.
FELICIA P. FIELDS: EACH ONE OF US HAS OUR OWN INDIVIDUAL SELF. HE'S ACCUSTOMED TO HAVING HIS OWN BAND AND DEALING WITH HIS AUDIENCE. WHEN YOU ARE CONNECTED TO A THEATER PROJECT SUCH AS THIS, RANDALL MILER, THE DIRECTOR, SITS ON THE OUTSIDE. IT IS LIKE PUTTING A TRAIN TOGETHER. IT CHANGES FROM YOU PERFORMING FOR YOURSELF TO US PERFORMING TOGETHER TO MOVE THE TRAIN IN THE DIRECTION WHERE IT ALL GOES, FOR THE AUDIENCE TO POWER EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING. IT IS A CONNECTION OF THINGS.
CHIC STREET MAN: ONE OF THE THINGS GOING ON, THERE IS A FAIR AMOUNT OF AUDIENCE INTERACTION. IF FELICIA GOS TO THE AUDIENCE, WHICH IS MY FAVORITE PART. IT'S EXCITING.
SHAKE ANDERSON: YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO GET WITH BIG MAMA.
TED SIMONS: YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO GET EITHER. BEFORE WE WRAP ALL OF THIS UP, I KNOW PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED LISTENING TO THE CONVERSATION, THEY ARE INTERESTED. WHAT SHOULD THEY EXPECT FROM LOW DOWN DIRTY BLUES?
FELICIA P. FIELDS: I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE TWO HOURS THEY ARE LOCKED NEWSPAPER THIS THEATER, AND POLITICS DO NOT MATTER, WORLD TRAGEDIES DO NOT MATTER. THEY COME INTO BIG MAMA'S HOUSE TO RELEASE AND HAVE A GOOD TIME. I WANT THEM TO BE ABLE TO COME IN AND KNOW THAT THOUGH THERE IS TRAGEDY ON THE OTHER SIDE, THIS IS A NICE PLACE.
TED SIMONS:SOUNDS LIKE THE BLUES.
CHIC STREET MAN: OUR EXPERIENCE MAY NOT HAVE AN EXPERIENCE THEY HAVE HAD IN THEIR LIVES. WE CAN CROSS ETHNIC LINES AND BREAK DOWN BARRIERS AND BRIDGES AND SEE WE HAVE A LOT IN COMMON. WE CAN SEE EACH OTHER'S BEAUTY. THERE WAS A TIME WE USED TO TALK ABOUT HOW WE HAD TO SEE HOW WE ARE ALL SIMILAR. I THINK WE NEED TO GO BEYOND THAT TO SEE THE DIFFERENCES AND APPRECIATE THE DIFFERENCES. THAT IS ONE OF THE THINGS THIS SHOW DOES, GETS PEOPLE INTO OUR LIVES TO REALIZE, WE CAN BE WITH THEM. THAT IS IMPORTANT.
TED SIMONS: BIG MAMA, JELLY ROLL MARTIN.
TED SIMONS: SHAKE, YOUR NAME IS?
SHAKE ANDERSON: SHAKE.
TED SIMONS: HOW CONVENIENT IS THAT?
SHAKE ANDERSON: THAT WORKS OUT PRETTY WELL. GOOD TO HAVE YOU ALL HERE. GOOD LUCK WITH THE PRODUCTION.
FELICIA P. FIELDS: THANK YOU, SO MUCH.
Felicia P. Fields: Big Mama, Low Down Dirty Blues
Chic Street Man: Jelly Roll Martin, Low Down Dirty Blues
Shake Anderson: Shake, Low Down Dirty Blues