To those who read their playbill before a show begins, I am not disclosing any spoiler alerts here. The second to last musical number in Broadway’s After Midnight is called “Freeze and Melt”. It is a boisterous song and dance number in which this hugely talented cast strikes choreographed poses that are either frozen in place or fluid and sexy. The song could also summarize your feelings to what has occurred in the previous eighty-five minutes at Broadway’s newest musical offering.
After Midnight, which opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Sunday night, is a reconcieved version of Cotton Club Parade, a hugely successful revue which played briefly at City Center Encores a few seasons ago. Led by the debonair Dule Hill (TV’s Psych and The West Wing), After Midnight is a tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington, whose fifty year career included four years at New York’s famed Cotton Club, the central setting for the piece. Hill serves as the narrator and recites the poetry of Langston Hughes between generally familiar American standards.
From the start,this revue experiences a frozen moment. What should be a rousing, full throttle introduction to the ensemble and the night that awaits is instead only a competent and functional opening number (“Daybreak Express”). For a song structured like a locomotive picking up steam, this version lacks vigor and vitality. Moments later however, when an elegant trio of ladies (Carmen Ruby Floyd, Rosena M. Hill Jackson, and Bryonha Marie Parham) cozy to the microphone and provide a smokin’ version of “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, we have no choice but to swoon and melt. Luckily, we are treated to more of these moments including American Idol’s Fantasia whose renditions of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Stormy Weather” infuse a new, livelier breath into already solid classics.
Other vignettes in the show seem a bit shoddy. As our leading man, Hill (an accomplished actor with less accomplished vocal skills) begins to sing, “I’ve Got the World On A String”, he grasps a red balloon. Soon he is surrounded by ensemble members who join in his “balloon-ography”. What could be modest and charming staging instead has the earmarks of a show with cheesy production values.
Tony Award winner Adriane Lenox raises the thermostat and brings two winning moments to the show. In “Women Be Wise”, she offers boozy, but sage wisdom to ladies who might want to show off their men. In “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night”, Lenox is a woman scorn, but delivers it with a lighthearted, tongue in cheek fashion.
There is much to admire in After Midnight, the first of which is the predominantly marvelous choreography by Warren Carlyle (who also directed). The cast delivers first rate dancing with seamless flair. Vocally however, there is little to applaud aside from the previously mentioned female trio and Ms. Barrino.
Without a doubt, the best part of After Midnight is the brassy, classy, phenomenal sound of the the orchestra. This seventeen piece band, hand picked by jazz great Wynton Marsalis, remains onstage during the show and accomplishes for the American songbook what Steve Jobs accomplished for computers. They alone make staying up late well worth it.
“After Midnight” at the Brooks Atkinson theatre (256 W. 47th between Broadway and 8th Avenue). Tickets available at the box office, online at www.telecharge.com or by phone at 1-800-745-3000. In the “guest star” role, Fantasia is featured through February. k.d. Lang succeeds her, and Toni Braxton will appear with “Babyface” in March.