ORLANDO — “Blue” Miller is a Jazz performer who plays the horn in a big city band, starting in the 1930s. He meets Ellie Grace on New Year’s Eve in 1939, and they are definitely from opposite sides of the track.
Blue is street smart, a man who grew up poor to a mother who worked hard in local hotels to make ends meet and put food on the table. Ellie, on the other hand, grew up rich, and it’s her dad who owns the nightclub that Blue is starting his music career in.
She’s sophisticated, well educated, and quotes Shakespeare. Blue is quite the opposite. The two seem to have so little in common that they seem likely to simply pass by one another, like ships in the night.
But they don’t.
Instead, Blue and Ellie discover they have something special in common: a love for the emerging art form known as Jazz music. Blue is a skillful and passionate musician, all right, but as it turns out, he’s met something of a soulmate in Ellie, who has a genuine talent for composing Jazz songs – particularly romantic ballads. They begin by talking about their interest in Jazz, then form a creative partnership, as Ellie writes the music that Blue will turn into a lifelong career of being on the road, performing electrifying Jazz shows for audiences coast to coast.
In Joseph Reed Hates’ original theatrical drama “Solos,” now being performed at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theater in Orlando, the relationship that Blue and Ellie develop as two passionate artists quickly, and predictably, turns romantic. They become emotionally linked as lovers, as their career in Jazz proves durable for years to come.
What they will eventually discover, though, is that the creative abilities they bring to composing and performing this free-style of music is in some ways easier to manage than their home life. As the decades move from one to the next, Jazz just seems to get more popular – but at the same time, it continues to evolve. Ellie and Blue stay one step ahead of it, trying to figure out how each new era transforms Jazz for a new audience.
But as their career gets stronger, their personal relationship sours. The stark differences between the boy from the poorer side of town and the society girl with the privileged background just get deeper and harder to overcome. Their anger over each conflict becomes harder to contain, and eventually the relationship turns ugly and abusive. It seems likely that they are heading for a bad crash.
What’s so appealing about Hayes’ drama is the way in which the focus remains on the couple, who light up when they talk about their creative aspirations for their music, but who struggle to maintain a loving home; but at the same time, Jazz remains the shadow that covers them in the background. And it turns out to have a much stronger grip on their lives, and passion for one another, than either one might have predicted when they began to stumbled over so many painful low points at home.
This intimate drama, with stellar performances by Michael Sapp as Blue and Desiree Perez as Ellie, is as much about the power of music and creativity as it is about how the couples’ lives changes over the years. It truly holds you in an almost hypnotic way. Ellie wants so badly to break through emotionally to the man she fell in love with, but for too long it seems that for Blue, its the music that stands tall above all else. She can’t seem to pull him away from the stage, either literally or figuratively, to deal with the domestic issues on the home front. His heart and soul stays in front of that audience.
But just when you feel like you’ve got a good sense of where the play is headed, chances are you’re all wrong.
Directed in a haunting style by Paul Castaneda, this is great theater for adults – a show that touches on our emotions as we connect with a couple soaring on the wings of their shared love for music, only to seemingly fall when their differences become too challenging to mount. And that is not even the end of the drama.
“Solos” will have a final performance on Monday night at 7:30 p.m., when there will also be live music provided by special guest band La Lucha. Tickets for Monday’s show are $10 and can be ordered through “Solos” online or at the door.
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