dave fleschner

‘Just This One’ review: staging the blues

Jukebox musical based on the life of legendary Portland bluesman Paul deLay electrifies Fertile Ground festival

At the Fertile Ground Festival performance of Just This One, a jukebox musical based on the eventful life of late Portland bluesman Paul deLay, I went to a play and a great blues concert broke out.

I never got to hear deLay, who died in his native Portland in 2007, live. Having devoted way too many college nights to intense study of great local and touring blues masters at one of the nation’s great blues clubs, Antones, I was too snobby (not to mention too busy covering other music after moving here) to imagine that Oregon could produce great blues comparable to what I’d so often heard in Texas, except for maybe Robert Cray. By the time I realized my error, a year after moving to Portland, deLay was gone, stolen by leukemia at age 55

Saeeda Wright, Lisa Mann, LaRhonda Steele, Ben Rice in ‘Just This One.’

So the fact that even a deLay newbie like me so enjoyed Wayne Harrel’s new musical shows that his songs and story (even as fictionalized here) are plenty compelling for any blues lover — not just those trying to relive deLay’s glory days performing at the Fat Little Rooster.

That’s because this show wisely keeps the spotlight on deLay’s masterfully crafted, often wryly humorous music, not the characteristically contrived story frame, and enlists a stage full of powerful performers to deliver it. Even though the show, ably directed by Judy Straalsund, happened in the backroom of a southeast Portland piano store, Michelle’s Piano Company, if I closed my eyes, I could imagine I was back at Antone’s, minus the clouds of cigarette smoke.

Continues…