“It feels like going home”: Clive Rowe back at Hackney Empire for Blues in the Night
- Credit: Archant
Two of the best sets of pipes in the business will raise the Hackney Empire’s roof with a feast of jazz and blues.
West End stars Clive Rowe and Sharon D Clarke are no strangers to the theatre, having both starred in the celebrated annual pantomime.
They appear in Blues in the Night, one of the original juke box musicals, set in a run down hotel in Chicago 1939.
The dialogue-free show interweaves 26 classic torch songs with the stories of three women and the no-good man they love.
Numbers include Lover Man, Baby Doll and of course Blues in the Night – a gift for a performer like Rowe whose musical theatre roles range from Kiss Me Kate and Guys and Dolls to King Darius in the recent National Theatre hit The Light Princess.
“It explores the three ages of women, youth, mid-life and latter life – two ladies who have lived and loved, and one girl who’s about to start that journey, and questions who they are and who they will become,” said Clive.
“I am the only man, the lounge singer in the hotel.
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“I represent everyman in all his complexity, and because these are torch songs, the lowness of man, all of which I carry on my very, very broad shoulders.”
The Oldham-born star says it’s great to return to the theatre where he played the dame for years to great acclaim – even being nominated for an Olivier award.
“It’s always nice to go back to the Empire. As a building it’s beautiful, but as a theatre it’s a great place to work because the people there are extraordinary.
“The feeling of a family you get after working there for eight years, it’s like going home.”
The 50-year-old says although his heart is with comic roles in musicals, he loves straight acting jobs including stints on children’s TV show Tracy Beaker and the recent stage adaptation of The Ladykillers.
“I’ve had the luck to work with directors of incredible vision such as Nick Hytner, Richard Eyre and Sam Mendes, who employed racially blind casting for massive pieces of theatre.”
Last year, he was back at The National to reprise his Olivier award-winning role as rotund gambler Nicely Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls for the 50th birthday celebrations.
“They didn’t drag me, before they finished asking ‘would you like to come back?’ I had said yes.
“That was a most extraordinary job – one of the best of my career but one of the greatest times was also The Light Princess.
“I loved the piece and there is no actor who says it’s not exciting and special to be the benchmark in the published script that says: ‘originally played by’.”
Tori Amos’ fable – about a princess who cannot touch the ground – stretched Rowe’s vocal range to the maximum and was “a difficult but thrilling emotional journey,” that, despite enthusiastic audience response, is unlikely to be revived.
“The piece was marmite, the majority loved it, screaming and shouting, but there was a core who didn’t enjoy it.
“It is a superb piece of theatre and should have another journey but I am not a producer.”
He adds: “With my northern work ethic I don’t think I’ll ever stop singing. I love it and feel most at peace when I am singing.”
Blues in the Night runs from April 26 until May 4. See hackneyempire.co.uk for more.