Honey is drippin’ from the stage of the Brooks Atkinson theater. Since opening in November 2013, After Midnight has been blowin’ the proverbial roof off of the building, mostly in part to the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, handpicked by jazz genius Wynton Marsalis. A tribute to the legendary Duke Ellington, After Midnight highlights some of his finest arrangements, blended with first rate vocals and dance.
American Idol’s Fantasia Barrino opened the likeable revue (and will incidentally return to the show on May 13th), portraying the role of Special Guest Star. This, as an ode to the Cotton Club tradition, the posh Harlem nightclub where Ellington made his mark. Each week, jazz greats including Judy Garland, Lena Horne, and Bessie Smith would take to the microphone, amidst the glamour and brass accompanying them. The tradition continues here on Broadway. After Fantasia, k.d. Lang stepped into the role, and soon, Vanessa Williams will soak up the spotlight prior to Barrino’s return.
But now, 6 time Grammy award winning Toni Braxton is infusing her own R&B style on the work-and giving new life to already iconic songs. Braxton’s interprets “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Stormy Weather” with a delicious mix of vulnerability and sass. Her dulcet tones combine her established sound as a pop artist with the flavor of Blossom Dearie. It doesn’t hurt that she can sell both numbers with ultimate grace and sexiness. Braxton makes a dazzling Broadway debut.
Joining her in this juke joint is Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, a 10 time Grammy award winning artist, who is also appearing on Broadway for the first time. Edmonds replaces television’s Dule Hill as the Host, a role which drives the show through the poetry of Langston Hughes. Edmonds is making a much smaller splash here and appears uncertain of his next line and choreographed move. His tentative delivery pales in comparison to his predecessor’s more self-assured manner.
Most of the original cast remains, as well as members of the best orchestra Broadway has heard in years. Braxton alone is worth the price of admission (she appears only through March 30th) , and the ensemble continues to pour their souls into the footlights. Adriane Lennox’s scene stealing numbers remain my favorite, as well as the trio of beauties (Bryonha Marie Parham, Carmen Ruby Floyd, and Rosena M. Hill Jackson) who melt the house, specifically with “Beyond the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”
After Midnight now playing on Broadway 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. Toni Braxton and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds appear through March 30. Vanessa Williams succeeds Braxton beginning April 1- May 11 and Fantasia returns May 13- June 8th