Sandra Reaves-Phillips

Reaves-Phillips' 'Blues' ain't no pity party
Robert Hurwitt, Chronicle Theater Critic
Monday, December 29, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

Bold & Brassy Blues: Created and performed by Sandra Reaves-Phillips. Staged by Lacy Darryl Phillips. (Through Dec. 31. American Conservatory Theater, Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Two hours, five minutes. Tickets $14-$55. Call (415) 749-2228 or visit

Sandra Reaves-Phillips takes the stage as if it belongs to her and belts out the blues like a force of nature. Soul, too, some blues-tinged rock 'n' roll and even a bit of country. True blues aficionados may want to take note: No, not every song in Reaves-Phillips' "Bold & Brassy Blues," which opened Saturday at the Geary Theater, is a true blues. But Reaves-Phillips makes just about everyone bold and undeniably brassy.

For the second year in a row, Reaves-Phillips is back at the Geary, filling in the post-"Christmas Carol" slot before the American Conservatory Theater's season resumes in January. The second of ACT's nonseason "Evenings at the Geary" series, the five-performance run of "Bold" -- which culminates in a special New Year's Eve show -- is an encore for Reaves-Phillips following her sold-out "The Late Great Ladies of Blues and Jazz" last year.

It's a pretty potent show. Reaves-Phillips is a powerhouse singer and a very generous performer, both in what she gives to the audience and in sharing credit with her fellow artists…… Some classic blues, like "Stormy Monday" and W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" ("I hate to see that evening sun go down"), get fairly short shrift, though expertly handled by Reaves-Phillips in a "Blues Medley." Others get a fuller, dynamic treatment. Reaves-Phillips belts a particularly brassy, suggestive "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and a deliciously rowdy "Rock Me Baby, " and she brings down the house with a beautifully rendered "Trouble in Mind" to close the first act, savoring every full-bodied note in a wailing duet with Guyton's sax.

More unusual still, though beautifully sung, is Reaves-Phillips' own "Two Wrongs," a country-flavored blues ballad (nice twangy plucking by DeNigris) about a lovers' quarrel. And though the advance material emphasized an autobiographical component to the between-song patter, most of it is well- delivered but pretty standard good-man-is-hard-to-find banter -- with a bit about her hard rural South Carolina childhood leading into a tough, confrontational "Tobacco Road." ……………………..when it's cooking, Reaves- Phillips and her ensemble know how -- as they do in the finale -- to "Let the Good Times Roll."