Sunday, November 03, 2013 8:02 pm
Review: 'After Midnight' celebrates thrilling jazz
By MARK KENNEDYAP Drama Writer
"After Midnight," a candy sampler of some two dozen musical numbers that showcase dance, jazz or singing, opened Sunday at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre led by musical genius Wynton Marsalis, an endearing Dule Hill as its host and a thrilling guest singer in Fantasia Barrino.
The show, which first surfaced in 2011 off-Broadway, tries to re-create the energy and fun of Harlem's famous Cotton Club nightclub in the 1920s and 30s, when Duke Ellington and his band made everything cool. It does so with panache but avoids sounding old-fashioned: There's even room for some breakdancing and popping.
As 17 musicians from Jazz at Lincoln Center play, the night includes Fantasia belting out a super "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," a subdued "Stormy Weather" and an infectious "Zaz Zuh Zaz." Adriane Lenox plays a hysterical boozy hellcat in two numbers, "Women Be Wise" and "Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night."
Carmen Ruby Floyd never sings a word in her song - "Creole Love Call" - but her flirty eyes and heavenly voice will make you melt. Jared Grimes's tapping is astounding, muscular yet graceful. There are musical interludes, dance sketches and more obscure songs like "Diga Diga Doo." There's also a dance battle between popper Julius "Iglide" Chisolm and hip hop dancer Virgil J. Gadson.
Hill, known from "Psych" and "The West Wing," pops up from time to time with a knowing smile and some lines by the great Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. Hill dives into his tap dancing roots in one number that has him leap into the split; he also sings a tender "I've Got the World on a String" while holding a balloon.
"American Idol" winner Fantasia is only in the role until February, when she is followed by k.d. lang and then the duo of Toni Braxton and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds. She's set the bar high.
Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, the high-energy show never lags, making for an excellently paced 90 minutes. It makes no attempt to make a statement other than just to celebrate some remarkable performers.
The orchestra, housed on a riser, sometimes glides downstage for songs or a featured musician will stand in a spotlight. With four trumpets and three trombones, the orchestra veers toward a cup-muddled, filthy sound. It's far from Harlem, but the Broadway venue seems intimate. You can almost taste the martini going down as you watch a top-notch revue.
Isabel Toledo's costumes are sexy and fun on the ladies, with feathers and shiny embellishments, and formal wear for the gentlemen, leaning on spats, fedoras and zoot suits. They all emerge at the end in dazzling white and huge grins. You'll share the grins.