Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Broadway Theater Review: After Midnight

The cast of After Midnight. Photo: Matthew Murphy
Cotton Club Musical is Entertaining Class Act
By Lauren Yarger
Dulé Hill and Fantasia Barrino head the cast of the don't-let-it-end, entertainment-packed musical revue After Midnight playing Broadway in a production based on last season's sold-out NY City Center Encores! and Jazz at Lincoln Center presentation of Cotton Club Parade with musical direction by Wynton Marsalis.

This foot-stomping, hand-clapping good time with excellent choreography by Director Warren Carlyle is pure entertainment. The 90 minutes without intermission comes to a fabulously staged curtain call way to soon. I wanted more and gladly would have sat through another hour and half. And that's not something I say about many shows.

Hill, known to many for his TV work on "The West Wing" and "Psych," doesn't have a Broadway belt voice, but holds his own and charms us in the role of a sort of MC/narrator in the presentation as conceived by Jack Viertel. It doesn't take the route of most jukebox musical by trying to put an unlikely story around a bunch of songs. Instead, Hill occasionally gives us times and places and uses the words of poet Langston Hughes to create the mood.

The show's thrust is its singing and dancing. Popular singing star Fantasia is one of several guest artists planned for the s how's run. She will be followed by Grammy Award-winners k.d. lang (2/11/14 – 3/9/14) and Toni Braxton & Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds (3/18/14 – 3/30/14). Future “Special Guest Stars” will be announced soon.

The show isn't dependent on star power for its locomotion. A cast of 25 excellent vocalists and dancers: Tony Award-winner Adriane Lenox reprising her critically acclaimed role as the blues singer with a sense of humor; Julius “iGlide” Chisolm from the renowned dance crew RemoteKontrol, reimagining Harlem’s popular 1920’s “snakehips” dance; hip hop star Virgil J. Gadson; Tony Award-nominated modern dancer Karine Plantadit; Michael Jackson’s tap coach Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and tap-dancing choreographer Jared Grimes in stunning tap routines.

The cast also includes a male quartet comprised of Grammy Award-nominee and member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band Everett Bradley, Cedric Neal, T. Oliver Reid and Monroe Kent III; a female trio of Broadway vets including Carmen Ruby Floyd, Rosena M. Hill Jackson and Bryonha Marie Parham; and accomplished dancers Marija Abney, Phillip Attmore, Christopher Broughton, Taeler Elyse Cyrus, C.K. Edwards, Danielle Herbert, Bahiyah Hibah, David Jennings, Erin N. Moore, Justin Prescott, Tony Award nominee Desmond Richardson, Allysa Shorte, Monique Smith and Daniel J. Watts.

After Midnight also features The Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, a world-class big band of 17 musicians hand-picked by Marsalis up on the stage in the tradition of The Duke Ellington Orchestra: Mark Gross,
Godwin Louis, Dan Block, Andy Farber and Kurt Bacher on woodwinds; Gregory Gisbert,
Bruce Harris, Alphonso Horne and James Zollar on trumpets; Wayne Goodman, Art Baron and James Burton III on trombones; Adam Birnbaum on piano; James Chirillo on guitar Jennifer Vincent on bass and Alvester Garnett on drums. Musical supervision and additional arrangements are by Daryl Waters.

This ensemble triggers something I never remember seeing before: at the end of the curtain call, the audience sits down to hear the postlude -- no dashing up the aisle before the house lights come on for a quick exit for this musical.

The show's creative elements wow the crowd also. The ballroom at the cotton club is designed by Jean Lee Beatty with precision lighting by Howell Binkley. Isobel Toledo, the fashion designer who created First Lady Michelle Obama's first inaugural gown, designs the flashy, swirling deco costumes.

It's all really, really good -- and one of the most enjoyable shows I have seen in a long time. A personal highlight for me was the precision "penguin" routine. I could have watched a whole show of just that.

Tap on over to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th St., NYC After Midnight. http://www.aftermidnightbroadway.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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