This production was not what I expected—a play about the story of the two musicians, Chuck and Eva, and how their unusual friendship led to the development of an album of songs from the Great American Songbook. Instead, it was a jazz concert with no explanation of who Chuck and Eva were. I spoke with IN Series Artistic Director Timothy Nelson afterwards who explained that the performance had gone through many months of development resulting in a concert rather than a play.
…a concert that any jazz or blues fan would enjoy.
IN Series, a non-profit arts organization associated with DC’s Source Theater, produced this concert based on interpretations of the songs on the album “The Other Side” released in 1992. This album developed from the friendship of Chuck Brown, a DC-based guitarist, singer, and bandleader, and Eva Cassidy, a Baltimore guitarist and singer known for her interpretations of jazz, blues, and folk music. Chuck Brown was also known as the “Godfather of Go-Go.” Go-Go is a sub-genre of funk music developed in the DC area in the mid-1970s (not related to the “go-go” dance music of the 1960s). Mr. Nelson explained, “The performance itself is focused not on living in the past of this album, but bringing together living and working DC jazz artists to generate new life from the songs and musical approaches of Brown and Cassidy. In this way the project is about celebrating the present and creating the future of DC music.”
The concert features the jazz piano style of music director, arranger Janelle Gill and vocalists Melissa Wimbish (soprano) and Greg Watkins (baritone), and a jazz ensemble featuring Romeir Mendez (bass), Dana Hawkins (drums), DeAnte Haggerty Willis (guitar) and Marshall Keys (saxophone). Twelve songs from the album were all selected from the Great American Songbook, well represented by a variety of composers such as Harold Arlen, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Van Heusen, Eddie Arnold, etc. The vocalists were featured in each number as soloists or a duet. The members of the ensemble were also given varying solo spots within each song.
Both vocalists have impressive resumés in many different areas of musical performance. Greg Watkins’ rich, expressive baritone reminded me of Nat King Cole and Billy Eckstine. His two solos, “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” were beautifully presented, and his gestures and facial expressions added much depth to the lyrics. Melissa Wimbish’s version of “Dark End of the Street” offered melancholy and sadness that you could almost feel in the air. Her version of “Over the Rainbow” was portrayed with heart-wrenching longing in a whispering, then soaring soprano with a jazz styling accompanied only by Mr. Willis’ exceptional, very emotional guitar arrangement. So many singers have recorded this song, but they gave it yet a new life. I was also impressed by the different versions of “scat” singing both vocalists offered in a few of the upbeat numbers. Their duets involved a familiarity of expressions and comfort level resulting from many hours of rehearsing together. Disappointed audience sighs, however, resulted from the sudden omission of Billie Holiday’s classic “God Bless the Child” from the program listing with no explanation. From “Let the Good Times Roll” to “I’ll Go Crazy,” this was a concert that any jazz or blues fan would enjoy.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Chuck & Eva” was produced by IN Series and performed on June 24, 2023 at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore MD 21201. For more information and tickets for future IN Series productions, go to their website. For more information on upcoming productions at Theatre Project, go online.