Adriane Lenox in After Midnight
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Take a host of standards from the American songbook mix them with some jazz classics and a few forgotten gems from nearly a century ago. Add in some high-steppin', high octane choreography and some soul-stirring performances, and you have a recipe for a terrific night at the theater: After Midnight, a joyous new revue which opened last night at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Conceived by Jack Viertel and directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, the show, under the name Cotton Club Parade, premiered a couple of years back as part of a collaboration between New York City Center's Encores! program and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Quite simply it's a celebration of the days when a trip on the "A" train to the nightclubs in Harlem was de rigueur for New Yorkers and tourists alike. It was in spots there, like the one that gave the show its original title, that you could find the likes of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Ethel Waters blazing through the night.
The spirits of these artists - and more - are resurrected time and again in After Midnight. And, whether it's the orchestra, a swinging, brash brass-rich ensemble that's placed center stage in John Lee Beatty's simply evocative art deco set design, or the ensemble cutting loose in one of Carlyle's imaginatively athletic, yet all the while elegant, dances, the show repeatedly proves itself to be a welcome and worthy conduit for the great entertainers it's conjuring.
At the center of the show are a trio of headliners, including Dulé Hill (best known for work on television's Pysch, but also a Broadway vet of shows like Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk). He serves as the guide through the piece, offering scene-setting snippets of Langston Hughes' poetry and also delivers a charming rendition of "I've Got the World on a String."
The show also boasts Tony Award-winner Adriane Lenox, who proves herself to be a red hot momma of the first caliber as she serves up two terrific specialty numbers with saucy passion. It's difficult deciding which is the bigger delight: her take on "Women Be Wise," which counsels ladies to keep their men's virtues to themselves; or her rendition of "Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night," which finds her throwing a cheating man to the street.
Also at the forefront of the show is American Idol alum Fantasia Barrino, who graced Broadway awhile back in The Color Purple. She performs some of the best-known songs in the show, including "Stormy Weather," which sizzles with anger and hurt in her deeply felt performance; and "On the Sunny Side of the Street," where she demonstrates a light-as-a-feather buoyancy in both her vocals and dancing. Barrino also shines as she does a Cab Calloway specialty, "Zaz Zuh Zaz," working the crowd and a quartet of her fellow performers placed in the theater's boxes with a sure sense of showmanship.
Beyond these exhilarating turns come ones from the likes of Virgil "Lil'O" Gadson, who proves that he can be as graceful on two hands as he is on two feet as he dances his way through bevy of beauties who might be his mate with Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-oo;" and Carmen Ruby Floyd, who delivers divinely with another Ellington tune, "Creole Love Call."
A shrewdly conceived medley of "Raisin' the Rent" and "Get Yourself a New Broom" (and sweep your troubles away) finds Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Phillip Attmore and Daniel J. Watts tapping up a storm; and when the rubber-jointed Julius "iGlide" Chisolm and Gadson square off for a terpsichorean competition in "Hottentot," their work is smile-inducingly sublime.
The sophisticated wit that's found in this latter sequence extends through other aspects of the production, particularly Isabel Toledo's gorgeous period costumes, and Howell Binkley's lighting design that beautifully underscores the ever-shifting moods of the show. Additionally, Peter Hylenski's sound design is a model of understated amplification, and it gives this marvelously boisterous celebration a surprising intimacy: the sort that might have been felt in the fabled nightspots where so many of After Midnight's fantastic tunes originated.
---- Andy Propst
After Midnight plays at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 West 47th Street). Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with matinee performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. For more information and tickets, visit aftermidnightbroadway.com.
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