‘Pearl’s Rollin’ with the Blues’ with Felicia Fields
Felicia Pearl Fields, a Chicago treasure, can certainly sing blues.
This fact has been known to some of us for decades, after hearing this native Chicago do it in theaters and concert halls all over the city and beyond. But you’ve never heard her do exactly what she does in the new blues revue at the Writers Theater in Glencoe.
A note before I explain. I got this show with me Wednesday night, the first show at a theater just a quick walk from Highland Park. Writers’ interim artistic director Bobby Kennedy gave a beautiful little curtain speech in honor of the victims of the shooting, noting the theatre’s power to bring people together, and saying how moved he was by the relatively large number of people who had still come out to the theater , just two days after the shooting. I was similarly moved, and Fields, who plays himself, also brought up the subject. She talked about her own sadness and about doing what she could to give people a breath of fresh air from everything that had happened right outside the theater’s doors. You could feel the unspoken gratitude flowing back in her direction.
But this review is not just about Fields, who appears here with a five-man band, one of which is Chic Street Man, also a featured vocalist and a fabulous performer I have reviewed many times over the years in all kinds of theater projects around the country.
Street Man, a bluessmith in his own right, is a good partner for Fields, whose repertoire includes songs made famous by, among others, Howlin ‘Wolf and Big Mama Thornton. But it’s director and receiver Ron OJ Parson who has given Fields a vehicle she’s never had before. Chicago does not always treat its small galaxy of stars well. That error has been corrected here.
Parson is in the middle of such a series of truly amazing shows – “Relentless” at the Timeline Theater, “Two Trains Running” at the Court Theater and now this one – that I tend to wonder what the current struggling Chicago theater would ever want done without him.
His signatures are all over “Pearl’s Rollin ‘with the Blues”: a strikingly fast-paced staging, careful attention to the visual, care for how the audience thinks and feels, and above all else, a focus on directly telling truths. Even in what on the surface is just a blues cabaret.
Fields gives absolutely effervescent renditions of these blues standards, but she has done so before. What I have never seen, however, is that she speaks so honestly to the audience. Using Street Man, whose blues pedigree goes back generations, she invites the North Shore audience into the blues experience, her blue experience, with real generosity. That said, the series also discusses some tough topics, but it is effective in its mild pedagogy precisely because the two stars simultaneously offer such warmth and friendliness. Well-timed warmth and friendliness, I might add. Halfway through Wednesday, I remember thinking, thank God, this is such an open-hearted and non-judgmental show.
That is really the case. These are professionals in the top drawer (Ricardo Jimenez plays horn and harp, Frank Menzies vocals from his keyboards, Harold Morrison, his bald tits an irresistible Fields goal, hits the drums and Julie Poncé hits the bass) and the show has a glamorous shimmer, thanks to set designer Jack Magaw, who has built Fields an elegant clamshell and runway, themes that costume designer Rueben Echoles continues with in his dresses.
On one level, “Pearl’s Rollin ‘” offers a little blues club experience for those who may not have tackled start times at. 23:00 and a lot of people in the city late at night. You can even buy a table and lower the mask to sip a drink.
But this is also a very well-structured play in itself. It’s a blues lesson for beginners, but also a reminder of the need to keep the mojo going, while Field sings, even in the face of pain and sadness, two emotions that were in the baby’s milk that gave birth to the blues in the first place.
It can drive and drive in downtown Chicago as well.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Pearl’s Rollin ‘with the Blues: A Night with Felicia P. Fields” (4 stars)
When: Through July 24th
Where: Writers Theater, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe
Playing time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Tickets: $ 35- $ 90 at 847-242-6000 or www.writerstheatre.org