The musical is told in flashbacks, where Bessie’s brother is waiting for her body to return. (Smith died in a nasty automobile accident). Bell says for all the bravado she brought to her recordings, she lived hard and fast.
“She did not care what people thought of her,” says Bell. “She was an angel on stage, but generated bad news and was often scandalous. Like Lindsay Lohan, she was famous for being notorious.”
“Gut Bucket Blues” does not skimp on Smith’s bisexuality.
“Her bisexuality is an important part of the show,” Bell says. “It was part of her life. She did anything that felt good.”
The friendship Smith had with Ma Rainey is also depicted.
Bell feels this musical will have enormous appeal for gay audiences.
“Bessie was real,” he says. “She was a diva icon for her ability to sing and her ability not to apologize. She told people what she really thought. She had the courage to live without apology — she never apologized for being country, or bisexual or gaudy or tasteless.”
This week, actor Eric Jordan Young also opens in the one-man show “Sammy and Me” at the Alliance. It’s a musical about Sammy Davis Jr. the unorthodox singer who performed for decades.
Young, a longtime Davis fan, started readying “Sammy and Me” six years ago and is excited to be able to stage it here.
The show features many of Davis’s signature songs — 15 in all — as well as dance numbers. The goal, of course, is to take this to other cities and then hopefully Broadway.
Davis, a fixture of the Rat Pack, eventually died of throat cancer in 1990. What Young thinks audiences will take from the show is Davis’ individuality.
“This show is really about the choices we make in our life, the choices that are ours,” he says. “Sammy didn’t care what others thought; he didn’t care if he fit in. He was himself and he persevered. He made his own rules.”
Finally, the crowd-pleaser “Dreamgirls” kicks off the Atlanta Broadway Series’ 2010-2011 season. Loosely based on Diana Ross and the Supremes, this new version of “Dreamgirls” incorporates the popular song “Listen” from the Academy-Award winning movie into its second act.
‘Gut Bucket Blues’
Through Nov. 7
84 Luckie St., Atlanta, GA 30303
‘Sammy and Me’
Through Oct. 24
Alliance Theatre Hertz Stage
1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30309
Oct. 12 – 17
660 Peachtree St. , Atlanta, GA 30308
Top photo: ‘Gut Bucket Blues’ examines the life of unapologetic early blues icon Bessie Smith. (by Chris Bartelski)