Very loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale, Jules Vaquera and Dan Timoskevich’s new musical, Nightingale, is set in the Cauldron nightclub, the hottest blues and jazz venue in an unspecified but recognizable urban city.
Luther Virtue (Barry Goetti) is the Cauldron’s owner. His wife, Penny (Vaquera), is his star act and his great love. Every night she performs to great acclaim, accompanied by her backup singers, the Guilty Pleasures (Marie Bunch, Dorianna James and Caitlin Palmer). The Cauldron is a sensation and business has been booming for years.
Alas, when it seems their world seems to be at its brightest, darkness must fall. Penny has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is unable to perform anymore, but she bravely pleads with her heartsick husband to find a new singer to replace her and keep their dream alive. He reluctantly agrees and sends his talent scout, Nate (Venny Mortimer) out to find a new discovery.
It doesn’t take long to find one. Nate’s sister, Mika (Bunch) invites him to come to see her singer, Ayla (Yleana Wooten), at her restaurant/club. Ayla sings so soulfully that Nate is immediately smitten. He takes her to meet Luther. Although the clubowner tries to maintain a professional distance, he recognizes aspects of his beloved Penny in Ayla. A doomed love triangle is bound to form.
Given Nightingale‘s familiar narrative structure, it’s easy to see that Vaquera and Timoskevich’s real focus was on the music, and it’s here that they really deliver. Their score is a splendid mixture of jazz and blues, enthusiastically performed by a fine cast.
As far as the performances go, co-composer Vaquera’s vocals (as the doomed Penny) are smoldering, but it’s Wooten who is an absolute knockout as Ayla. Standing alone in her spotlight, unmiked, she delivers blisteringly authentic blues, accompanied by Timoskevich’s terrific keyboard work.
The other performers also provide excellent support (especially the Guilty Pleasures), and director Vaquera cleverly positions her actors across the Overtime’s rectangular stage to create an immersive, three-dimensional soundscape as they harmonize. And when additional instruments such as guitars and beatboxes are required for particular songs, it’s exciting to see this talented group pick them up and provide accompaniment.
Nightingale has two more performances, and you should attend: Friday, Apr. 20 and Saturday, Apr. 21, at 8:00 p.m. at the Overtime Theatre, 5409 Bandera Road #205. There is also a special Nightingale in Concert event on Apr. 27. Tickets are available online or by calling (210) 557-7562.