“After Midnight” is jazz lite on Broadway, but it’s still great jazz

By Lucy Komisar

This musical play about the Cotton Club in Harlem in the 1920s and 30s, a time of the big-band sounds of Duke Ellington, is jazz lite. While the numbers are charming, especially those by the five-person dance team and a performer who conjures up Billy Holiday, it‘s missing gritty reality. It‘s more Broadway than jazz. It‘s what Broadway does to jazz.

Adriane Lenox in After Midnight, photo Matthew Murphy.

Then again, though the Cotton Club performers were black, the patrons were mostly white, and this is probably what they wanted.

Fantasia Barrino in After Midnight, photo Matthew Murphy.

That said, it‘s a delight, a pastiche of old jazz standards, dancing, glitter and feathers (costumes by Isabel Toledo). There is a sophisticated elegance in mood and demeanor.

Adriane Lenox is sassy in her tough advice to women, “Women Be Wise,” and what she tells them to say to straying boyfriends: “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night.”

Fantasia Barrino in a glittery gown is smashing in “Stormy Weather” (she conjures up Billy Holiday) and “I Can‘t Give You Anything But Love.” We hear her dulcet tones in “Sunny Side of the Street” with C.K. Edwards and Christopher Broughton and wonder why we don‘t see more of her in jazz clubs.

Everett Bradley and dancers in After Midnight, photo Matthew Murphy.

I loved the five dancing men (Dulé Hill, Everett Bradley, Cedric Neal, Monroe Kent III and T. Oliver Reid) in white pants, black cutaways and top hats, who move so closely in tandem that they seemed to be shadows of each other. They do a terrific “Aint It De Truth” gospel number. And the later four of that quintet, in pastel shirts and silver glitter, create sparks in “Diga Diga Doo.” (Direction and choreography is by Warren Carlyle.)

After Midnight reminds us that jazz is indeed the great American art form.

After Midnight.” Conceived by Jack Viertel; directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle. Music direction by the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, Wynton Marsalis, artistic director. Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street, New York. Running time 1:30 hrs. 212-745-3000.  Opened Nov 3, 2013. 3/22/14. Review on New York Theatre Wire.

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