Shades of Brown

Rated 4.0 Chautauqua Playhouse’s general manager, Bill Rogers, always has been an admirer of Oscar Brown Jr., a Chicago-born singer, songwriter, actor and playwright. Rogers has incorporated numerous Brown songs in Chautauqua productions throughout the years, but he wanted to place a bigger spotlight on the legendary (though not widely known) R&B and jazz composer. Rogers selected 21 songs from hundreds of Brown’s compositions and handed them over to three singing actors who have graced Chautauqua’s stage in the past: the multitalented Cheryl DuBose, Brenda Washington and Bob Rawleigh.

Under Rogers’ direction, the trio worked together to produce Shades of Brown, a retrospective of Brown’s work. The singers are accompanied by a tight trio of musicians that includes John Wilder on keyboards, Susan Just on drums and Christopher Deloffi as a one-man horn section.

Brown’s songs are classy and sassy, and so is the resulting show. There is no dialogue, except for a short introduction of Brown’s work at the beginning of each act. Because Brown excels at writing songs that tell stories, no further talking is needed, really.

What makes the show so engaging are the trio’s interpretations of the songs, both vocally and emotionally. The first half is dedicated to Brown’s clever, catchy, flirty numbers—each backed up with expressive performances. The second half focuses on Brown’s “message songs,” which were written mostly during the 1960s civil-rights push.

All that was missing in this classy nightclub act (staged in a theater) were candlelit tables and cocktail service. After its current run is done, the troupe really should take this show on the road. This class act could grace many other venues around town.