Representing the ‘ville: Creator of ‘Good Blues Tonight’ hopes showing in Lexington proves Danville proud

Published 2:47 pm Monday, May 8, 2017

 For those who couldn’t get enough of the ‘Blues’ last season at Pioneer Playhouse, last year’s Kentucky Voices production returns for a special three-day showing at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington.
“We always get a positive response for our Kentucky Voices plays,” says the creator and director of “Good Blues Tonight,” Robby Henson, the Playhouse’s artistic director. “But I was actually very pleased to see people who had never been to the Playhouse before, who had a connection to Second Street, come to the play and tell us we did a good job. Plus, we gained new audience members …”
“Good Blues Tonight” was a labor of love; it pays tribute to Danville’s Second Street Stroll, where the African-American community thrived with multiple businesses and social clubs. The play is set in 1956, so Henson learned a thing or two himself.
“I didn’t know how widespread urban renewal was later, and how much it changed the African-American communities of the 60s and 70s — that was really interesting to me,” Henson says. He learned a lot from local history buff Michael Hughes, was served as a consultant during preparations for the production, ensuring its authenticity, helping to accurately reflect the language, dress and attitude of the times.
“A lot of what I know now is from what Michael informed us on, all the local history that I didn’t really know …” Henson says. His family owned the Henson Hotel on Second Street for almost 100 years, “so they were very much a part of it.”
Henson is tickled the main castmembers were completely on board with coming back. “They wanted to be included in any kind of restaging of it. When we looked for new castmembers, it was mostly for the smaller roles — I didn’t expect some to travel for hundreds of miles to play the smaller roles. But the larger parts are all of the same people.”
That includes Clark Janell Davis, a former Miss Kentucky, who is returning, as well as Mari Harris, Joshua Jerome, Michael Hampton and Erika Lee.
“And then we will be joined by more local actors, like Yolantha Harrison-Pace from Danville …” Henson says, as well as some local actors from Lexington. 
Henson added that local musician Mike Evces will return as the hillbilly guitar player, and described him as a mainstay. “It’s so good to have Mike be the musical rock in the band, someone who knows the songs and can help teach them to others.”
All good reactions aside, Henson says he has taken the opportunity to make some adjustments for these next performances — which he’s done with a few minor tweaks. 
“I did some revamping, nothing major — if a bit wasn’t my favorite, we cut it out and replaced it. It’s what any playwright should take the opportunity to do in this case, to improve it.” 
Once again, Hughes will be along for the ride, showcasing his amazing exhibit of photographs celebrating the Second Street Stroll era in Danville in the lobby of the Lyric Theatre during the run of the show — a visual stroll down Second Street that was also a huge hit during last year’s “Good Blues Tonight” debut at the Playhouse. 
“We really hope that folks from Danville — including those who have already seen it — come out and support a piece of Danville history being presented on a historic Lexington stage,” Henson says, explaining that The Lyric has been a “cultural piece of Lexington” for quite some time. The theater was built in 1948, and was also once a thriving cultural center for Lexington’s African-American families. According to its website, many huge acts performed there — B.B. King and Count Basie, for instance. It was closed in 1963, but the theatre, formally named The Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, was able to reopen its doors in 2010. 
“But really, it’s more than just ticket sales. One, this is about our relationship with Lyric Theatre. We do want it to be good business for them, of course, and for them to know that the Playhouse is a good partner to have. They’re putting this on, we’re not. And any performer on any stage wants to know they’re wanted and needed, and filling seats is how we do that,” Henson says. 
“Also, the fans who know this story best are the ones who have the biggest connections with Danville. We really want them to turn out for this and represent. It’d be nice to go to Lexington, have a nice dinner somewhere and go see a show that will make them laugh, smile and cry, all in the same sitting.”
IF YOU GO 
“Good Blues Tonight” goes up at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 12-13, and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 14 at Lyric Threatre and Cultural Center, 300 E. Third St. in Lexington. For tickets, visit www.lexingtonlyric.com or call (859) 280-2218.