Make no mistake about it. The magnificent jazz Orchestra is the star of the exhilarating, thrilling review “After Midnight” that opened in November, and I was delighted to return to see again last night.
The musicianship of the Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars Band is exquisitely precise and richly and meticulously rendered under the conductor-ship of Daryl Waters. It is a sound can send you to heaven, and often does in “After Midnight.” For a show that is simply a revue, I wondered how it would fare. It has an all-singing, all-dancing, all African-American cast but it has lasted the long hard winter on Broadway and is thriving anew, nominated for Best Musical by the Tonys. It is nominated for Best Revue by the Drama Desk Awards and will surely triumph there, while “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” and “Beautiful:The Carole King Musical” will give it stiff competition in the main category.
“After Midnight” gives the audience so much positive musical energy, they leave the Brooks Atkinson Theater on the wings of song. AND dance. Lots and lots of dance. Which is of as high an order as the jazz orchestra playing behind them. Yes, the band is on stage, unfiltered and in-your-face, and in your ears, forever. Thankfully. It’s simply bliss to hear music this beautiful and intricate and lush played so perfectly. I doubt that I’ll ever hear this kind of exquisite jazz playing ever again on Broadway.
This is a large, large cast and it has retained most of its’ unique dancers since it opened, who are too numerous to mention. But I have to say having seen Fantasia Burrino (from “American Idol”) play the central “role” of the lead chanteuse last fall, I was more than disappointed by the rather vapid replacement of Vanessa Williams singing those solo lead songs as if she were in a Vegas revue, not the Cotton Club.Her adequacy was jarring. But don’t worry Ladies and Gentlemen, the fantastic Fantasia is returning to the show on Tuesday, May 13 which is the day after tomorrow. Yay!
Fantasia brought a shocking level of heart-wrenching pain, I think some may call it Soul, as well as a masterful blues technique to “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby”, “Zaz Zoo Zaz” and especially “Stormy Weather,” which Ms. Williams simply does not. Williams was more plastic fantastic than Etta james, who Ms. Barrino strikingly reminded me of.
Fantasia is the cherry atop the ice cream sundae that is “After Midnight”, and had a voluptuous magic and lush charisma that the ensemble-heavy show needs. And for someone who is known as a belter, a rapper and a rocker, her ease and mastery of these ’30s blues numbers was revelatory .
Fortunately, still carrying on to beat the band is the hilarious Adriane Lenox,( pictured above ^) the Tony Winner for “Doubt” for Best Featured Actress in a Play, she may very well win another this year for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Yes, she is so good she was nominated for a Tony for “After Midnight,” as well as a Drama Desk, too. She won both for “Doubt,” if you remember, then was replaced by Viola Davis in the film, sadly.
Here in a completely different characterization, Lenox brings down the house with her hilarious, sassy renditions of Sippie Wallace’s “Women Be Wise (Don’t Advertise Your Man)”. Directly addressing the audience as well as the band, Ms. Lenox stopped the show IN THE MIDDLE of this number last night. Then got another ovation towards the end, then had the audience screaming “Bravo!” by her big finish!
She thankfully comes back again to musically and comically confront a no-good-nik who turns up on her doorstep in the middle of the night, and tells him bluntly “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night,” another rip-roaring hilarity, this time by Sydney Easton and Ethel Waters. Let the awards rain down on the stupendous Adriane Lenox once again this spring, and I think they will.
Warren Carlyle directed AND choreographed this marathon of musical marvelous-ness. Dule Hill, who is our sly, under-stated host, keeps coming back and back again with snippets of poetry by Langston Hughes, and they all refer to the night. It’s Harlem in 1932 and the Cotton Club is our main destination. Carlyle’s recreation and evocation is heady, intoxicating and wild. As I’m sure it really was. I wish I had been there. And “After Midnight” does it level best to make you feel like you ARE there.
Finally I have to mention, the ample Carmen Ruby Floyd singing nothing but syllables in Duke Ellington’s vocalise called “Creole Love Call.” Hypnotic, musically perfect, and beautifully sung by Floyd, scaling the heights of opera and sliding and eliding her “Ooohs” and “Aaahes” into perfect jazz scatting with the lights of Howell Binkley turning the iridescent curtains of scenic designer John Lee Beatty a multitude of colors behind her as Lloyd stayed put at the microphone and sent the audience to musical heaven.
How can you miss this incredible show? You can’t that’s all. You simply can’t!