N. Moore, Virgil “Lil O” Gadson, Karine Plantadit Photos
by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
By Jeanne Lieberman
a season rife with the cerebral pleasures of Shakespeare, Pinter, Becket, its
time to get visceral. As Dulé Hill advises, drawing on Langston Hughes
for narrative touches throughout: after midnight in Harlem your heartbeat is a
indeed the first drumbeat laid out by the 16 musicians hand picked
by artistic director Wynton Marsalis, called The Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars,
launches you on a magical
musical carpet ride that will eventually carry you on out to the street.
fabric of that magic carpet is the music of Duke Ellington, Ted Koehler and
Harold Arlen, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh and others.
Dulé Hill and cast
ride is a trip back to Harlem’s Cotton Club of the 20’s and 30’s meticulously
recreated by Jack Viertel who conceived it originally for the City Center Encores!
production the Cotton Club, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle
who keeps the show moving and the energy up, on minimalist yet striking sets by
John Lee Beatty; enhanced by lighting designer Howell Binkley and the all
important sound design by Peter Hylenski. Isabel Toledo’s costumes keep the
cast chic ad sexy, and Charles G. LaPointe’s hair designs keep them true to the
But that time was not as happy as depicted onstage. It was the
Depression. Segregation reigned unchallenged and, though the cast was all black
(including such greats as Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway,
The Nicholas Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Waller, Ella
Fitzgerald, and a 16-year-old Lena Horne) the
audience was all white. On might see Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, George
Gershwin, Mae West, Irving Berlin, Moss Hart, Al Jolson, and New York Mayor
Jimmy Walker lending their panache to the proceedings.
Escape was provided in the uniformly high spirited “acts” lovingly
and ingeniously recreated. Some will appeal more than others according to individual
tastes but the cumulative whole is greater than its parts even when its parts
are individual polished sparkling gems.
Barrino opened as current “headliner” in a series of celebrity guests who will
be gracing the stage. She credits her big voice to singing in church choirs, but
she slips with surprising ease into a sophisticated scat and jazz as in vocals
as in her spirited interaction with a quartet of taunting guys on “Zaz Zuh
Zaz” (by Cab Calloway and Harry White), or lending the Dorothy Fields and Jimmy
McHugh classic “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” a bit of vampy sensuality.
“chanteuse” is the sassy Adriane
Lenox in her cautionary musical lesson about not flaunting your man in order
to keep him “Women Be Wise,” (by Sippie Wallace), or later the scolding “Go
Back Where You Stayed Last Night,” (by Sidney Easton and Ethel Waters). Carmen Ruby Floyd
was absolutely spellbinding in Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” wordless yet
ultimately expressive in musical conversation with the band.
might spot modern, jazz and ballet notable Desmond Richardson slinking through
“The Mooche” or Jared Grimes, tops in taps. Certainly one of the many
highlights is the stunning duo, Virgil Gadson sleek and speedy
be it on his feet, back or hands and rubber limbed “iGlide” Julius Chisolm in
the number “Hottentot” (by Fields and McHugh) Other s in this 15 member cast of
stand outs are Karine Plantadit, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Phillip Attmore,
Christopher Broughton, C. K. Edwards, Erin N. Moore, Monique Smith and Daniel
J. Watts. Their performances a series of gems that shine brightly alone but blaze
said the ultimate star if the show is its music. As with the cast, each
musician seems to have his moment in the spotlight inserting himself in solo moments
which often speak as eloquently as lyrics. They are deservedly onstage through
Alert! Just when the energy of the show mounts higher and higher towards its
inevitable concluding finale - don’t leave!
the performers leave the stage after their bows the band miraculously slides
forward and just takes over – rewarding the audience (many of whom stood
transfixed midway to the exits, mesmerized) with a mini concert filling the house
with glorious, pure sound until the drumbeat actually does morph from cerebral to
visceral and your heartbeat does echo the music’s rhythm – cardiologists take
note. It can happen!
Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th Street, Manhattan, 212-745-3000,
ticketmaster.com. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.