From the Bar to the Barge
The many jobs of Tye Blue.
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by Jeffrey Linthicum
Wouldn’t ya know, when Tye Blue’s ship comes in, it’s a showboat! Not just any paddle steamer, but the balconied Cotton Blossom, which docks January 18–February 9 for Houston Grand Opera’s production of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s classic Show Boat.
Blue is in high cotton, cast as Frank in the illustrious company of nine-time Tony Award-winner Tommy Tune as Cap’n Andy Hawks. Also in tow, for the sake of sheer elegance, is Houston socialite Lynn Wyatt. She appears in the choice cameo role of the “Lady on the Levee.”
“It’s a very big deal for me, personally and professionally,” says Blue, currently one of LGBT Houston’s most popular and beloved entertainers.
Fans of his work as a host and performer in Montrose-area nightclubs will recognize Blue’s acting and singing talents, but they might be surprised at the dance steps he’s been perfecting during several months of private training to play Frank, the star of the Cotton Blossom.
Blue shoehorned solo choreography lessons into an already busy schedule as creative director of operations at Guava Lamp Houston and its sister club, VUE.
In 2012, he also spent eight months producing a CD of three songs, which he debuted November 1 on Great Day Houston before hosting “The Tye Blue Revue” that evening at the launch party for his CD in the Peacock Room at the House of Blues. The songs on his CD include “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, the Peggy Lee standard “You Give Me Fever,” and an original tune, “A Song from Heaven Down to Earth.”
In the televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Houston, Blue performed a musical duet with Great Day Houston host Deborah Duncan. Then he was back at VUE on December 9 for another installment of his feel-good Sunday social, “Testify,” where uplifted souls shout “Hollerlujah!” after a delicious meal.
“It never stops, to be honest,” Blue says of his career as a freelance performer. “In ten years, I would like to be doing less jobs. It gets real tiring.”
In fact, with ambitions of making a clear shift toward performing exclusively in music or theater, Blue says, he would love to host a late-night television variety show based in Houston.
Tye Blue grew up in rural Needville, about forty miles southwest of Houston, with his sister, Suzette, and their mother, Rhonda Howell, a single parent.
“I think I had a pretty normal schooling,” he says. “It was in the middle of nowhere.
“I was very active in band, playing the saxophone. And I was in speech and debate. I was in a silly Western called The Perilous Decline of Cora Sline, but we were too small to put on a musical.
“I came out to my mother when I was 18,” Blue adds, describing it as a “very normal” rite of passage.
His mother, who remains active in Blue’s life and career, explains that she’s been a fan of Houston’s gay community “from way back.” “When I was in college, I used to dance—I loved to dance, so I got to know the gay community very well,” says Howell.
Blue adds that he enjoyed meetings at HATCH. “My friends and I would hang out at Crossroads [Market Bookstore].”
After graduating from Needville High School, Blue attended Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he enjoyed a rigorous and practical education in music theory, performance preparation, and many forms of world music, his favorite being pop and jazz-driven. (Berklee’s distinguished faculty and alumni are nominated for a total of twenty-four Grammy Awards at the fifty-fifth annual night of recording industry honors on February 10. Among the nominees is 2005 graduate Esperanza Spalding, who was Grammy’s Best New Artist in 2011.)
Blue transferred to Sam Houston State University, where he recalls learning about Show Boat and other Broadway classics. The stage version of Edna Ferber’s classic novel is a seminal work of musical theater, showcasing a magical score of classics such as “Ol’ Man River,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” and “You Are Love.” Audiences are swept away by its epic storytelling, following three generations of a theatrical family as the Cotton Blossom sails the Mississippi River across four decades.
One of Blue’s biggest numbers is “Goodbye, My Lady Love.” “Performing a lot of musical theater at Sam Houston is probably more applicable to what I’m doing now,” says Blue, who recently wowed audiences as villainous Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Bayou City Theatrics’ The Rocky Horror Show at the Music Box Theater.
HGO’s Show Boat, helmed by internationally renowned director Francesca Zambello, is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera.
Back in the nineties, productions of Show Boat won the Tony Award for best musical revival in 1995 and London’s Laurence Olivier Award for best musical revival in 1991.
What: Show Boat
When: January 18–February 9
Where: Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas Avenue
Tickets/info: $16–$350 • 713/228-6737 or houstongrandopera.org.
Donalevan Maines also writes about The Boys in the Band in this issue of OutSmart.