THE OTHER DREAMGIRLS
The women of ‘Bricktop’ bring 1920s
Michael Lee Pope
January 17, 2007
The allure of 1920s
Several of these voyagers made their way into Chez Bricktop, an establishment founded by American singer
“I think Chez Bricktop was sort of like the precursor to ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,’” said Peggy Blow, who plays the legendary vaudevillian in a new production at MetroStage. “What happened at the club stayed at the club, and this is a play that speaks to the joy of that time.”
The glamour of Smith’s
“These three women came together in this small world of ours and formed a special bond,” said Blow. “They had a chemistry together, and
Blow has performed in “Dance on Widow’s Row” at Mixed Blood Theatre, toured in “Crowns” in
“All I have to do is open up and let this woman do her show through me,” said Blow. “I don’t want to cheapen it by calling it channeling, but here’s a connection there.”
THE THREE WOMEN performers each filled a special niche at Chez Bricktop. Smith was the outspoken vaudevillian, someone who could alternate between jazz, blues and swing. Hunter was a blues master, and arguably the most famous of the three characters. And Mercer was a classically trained singer specializing in the jazz standards of the era. Her tranquil personality formed a counterpoint between Smith and Hunter.
“Mabel Mercer was a song interpreter as much as a vocalist,” said C. Kelly Wright, who plays Mercer in the play. “Her styling was very influential, and her technique was adapted by people like Josephine Baker and Bobby Short.”
Wright said that special relationship between the three women forms the backbone of “Bricktop,” with the interpersonal dynamics creating the backdrop as their relationship evolves from the heady 1920s to their golden years in the 1980s. The three women died within months of each other, friends until the end.
“The bond they had was integral to their art,” said Wright. “They would always come back to the trio. It was sort of like a home for them.”
Wright has appeared in “Crowns” on the West Coast and at the Asolo Theatre in
“It’s not so much a play as a party,” she said. “They may be part of a Lost Generation, but they deserve to be discovered again.”
ALBERTA HUNTER is probably the most well known of the three because of the comeback she made later in life. According to Roz White Gonsalves, who portrays Hunter in the play, her ability to sing the blues was the product of a troubled personal life that was stifled by American racial segregation.
“You can hear the suffering in her voice,” said Gonsalves. “She sort of thought of herself as the woman who brought the blues to
Gonsalves said that
“It still happens today. I have friends that go to
Gonsalves was last seen at MetroStage in “
“The audience has to be prepared to be on the stage,” she said. “It’s a great play, and I think it’s going to take this city by storm.”