- After Midnight-Tony Award Nominee for Best Featured Actress in a Musical~Adriane Lenox – Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Nominee)
- After Midnight-Tony Award Winner for Best Choreography – Best Choreography (Winner)
- After Midnight: 2014 Tony Award Nominee for Best Musical – Best Musical (Nominee)
- 2014 Drama Desk Award – Outstanding Revue (Winner)
After Midnight is Broadway’s exhilarating new musical celebrating the glamour and exuberance of Harlem’s Golden Age. Experience the intoxicating sounds of Harlem’s most legendary nightclub, performed by the unparalleled Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, an orchestra of 17 world-class musicians hand-picked by 9-time Grammy Award winner Wynton Marsalis. The timeless songs of Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Cab Calloway and their contemporaries are as explosively entertaining as ever in this evening of high-adrenaline song and dance numbers, woven together by the prose of Langston Hughes.
*Fantasia Barrino appears May 13-June 8. Patti LaBelle appears June 10-29. Gladys Knight appears July 8-August 3. Natalie Cole appears August 5-31.
Press / Reviews
Nov 3, 2013
NEW YORK – The paramount requirement for any revue celebrating the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s is stated right there in the Duke Ellington standard: “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” And After Midnight has it in abundance, courtesy of a superlative jazz orchestra handpicked by producer Wynton Marsalis from among the best in the business. Ninety minutes of exuberantly entertaining song and dance, this is a show that renders it impossible to keep your toes from tapping. Up first in a series of rotating special guest stars, Fantasia Barrino with her luscious vocals sets the bar high.
Conceived by Jack Viertel, the elegant production was hatched out of Cotton Club Parade, a collaboration by two New York concert organizations, City Center Encores! and Jazz at Lincoln Center, where Marsalis serves as artistic director. After earning rapturous reviews in its initial 2011 run of six sold-out performances, the show was reprised last year and has now evolved into this more elaborate retitled Broadway version.
It follows in the dancing footsteps of musical revues such as Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Sophisticated Ladies, which recreated the Jazz Age variety shows that drew crowds to legendary Harlem nightspots like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom. While music supervisor Daryl Waters, working with Marsalis, has returned to many of the original Ellington arrangements, the white-hot syncopated rhythms also acquire an understated contemporary edge, both through the performers and the look of the show. A key component of this modern spin on period high-style are the fabulous costumes by Cuban-born fashion designer Isabel Toledo, who has collected enough bugle beads, sequins, feathers and shimmy fringes to outfit a flapper army.
Unlike most jukebox musicals, which impose an artificial story construct to thread the songs together, After Midnight economically sets the time and place with a few evocative excerpts from the poetry of Langston Hughes, a defining voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Those are read by Dule Hill as the evening’s Host. The actor also participates in a handful of numbers, notably a breezy “I’ve Got the World on a String,” in which red balloons on white ribbons show that sometimes the simplest devices can yield stage magic. Hill’s fellow cast members outclass him in terms of their energy level and musicality, but he’s a charming presence.
While there are definite headliners, this is very much an ensemble show. Director-choreographer Warren Carlyle gives everyone a chance to share the spotlight, which arguably shines brightest on the 16 musicians perched onstage on a moving big-band platform.
The vocal harmonies of a seductive female trio (Carmen Ruby Floyd, Rosena M. Hill Jackson and Bryonha Marie Parham) on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” are sublime, enlivened by a mischievous strain of sassy humor. Floyd also has a standout moment later on with her insanely sultry warbling on Ellington’s wordless “Creole Love Call.”
The guys are no slouches either. Daniel J. Watts and Phillip Attmore duet on “Happy As the Day is Long,” selling the sheer joy of the song’s title in their tap-dance break, while Everett Bradley, Cedric Neal, Monroe Kent III and T. Oliver Reid harmonize up an ebullient riot, subbing for The Mills Brothers on “Diga Diga Doo.” Bradley also leads the spirited vocals with great comic verve on Ellington’s “Peckin’,” capping off a precision-tooled formation dance featuring five guys in top hats and tails.
Some of the ensemble dance numbers show the limitations of Carlyle’s choreography, which mimics the vernacular of the era well enough but could use an extra shot or two of inventiveness. What he does do well is smoothly integrate a smattering of contemporary elements – breakdance, moonwalk, hip-hop – to suggest the vintage roots of those moves.
The dance highlights tend to come from the specialty soloists. Watching Julius “iGlide” Chisolm’s slippy-slidey elasticity in a dance-off with Virgil “Lil’O” Gadson’s buoyant athleticism is exhilarating. Likewise, the tap virtuosity of Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and the dazzling Jared Grimes, whose locomotive “Tap Mathematician” routine quickens the pulse as the finale approaches. As she demonstrated in Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra show Come Fly Away, Karine Plantadit’s combination of muscularity and grace is mesmerizing. But it seems a crime for a dancer known as much for her magnificent golden ‘fro as her superhuman leg extensions to be stuck in a stiff blonde bob that cramps her style. However, that’s just nitpicking.
One of the biggest surprises here is the star attraction. Broadway purists like to be sniffy about American Idol discoveries and their melisma-heavy vocal stunts. But Fantasia proved an exception – with solid acting chops to boot – when she stepped confidently into the lead role in The Color Purple in 2007. While her shoulder tattoo art is out-of-period, her performance here plunges into the jazz-blues vocal styles of another era, evoking everyone from Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday to Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald on such standards as “Stormy Weather,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” She even gives a rousing nod to Cab Calloway on “Zaz Zuh Zaz,” with Bradley and the guys answering her scat call-and-response from the box seats. Fantasia’s vocal skills are no secret, but she also nails the period moves and attitudes with supreme finesse, playing the baby doll in one breath and the torchy siren in the next. And she looks gorgeous in Toledo’s knockout gowns.
The indisputable scene-stealer of After Midnight, however, is the marvelous Adriane Lenox, a Tony-winner for Doubt. Sly, sexy humor ripples through this entire show, but nowhere more so than in Lenox’s two numbers. She summons Ethel Waters from the grave in “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night,” slamming the door shut on a philandering man; and her rendition of the Sippie Wallace song, “Women Be Wise,” is a comedic revelation, effortlessly finding laughs in that bluesy cautionary lesson that may never have previously existed. Gulping hooch and shaking her bony limbs like an inveterate juke-joint floozy, Lenox alone makes this a party you don’t want to miss. It’s jazz heaven.
Nov 3, 2013
Jukebox musicals have had a horrible reputation lately, and with reason: For every “Jersey Boys,” there are twice as many cheeseballs muddling the material they’re meant to honor — R.I.P. “Lennon” “Good Vibrations” and “Baby It’s You!”
At last comes “After Midnight,” a sleek, elegant tribute to Duke Ellington and the glory days of the Cotton Club that brings class back to Broadway.
The marquee name here is “Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino, who’s featured in four numbers. (In a nod to the Harlem nightclub’s rotating “celebrity nights,” she’ll be succeeded by k.d. lang in February and Toni Braxton and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds in March.)
But the show’s true star is the 17-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars orchestra, handpicked by Wynton Marsalis. It sits in plain view onstage, pumping out pulsating takes of Ellington’s big-band classics, popularized by the likes of Ethel Waters and Cab Calloway. If the joint is jumping — and boy, is it! — it’s thanks to those guys.
Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, “After Midnight” hasn’t changed much from its earlier incarnation as “The Cotton Club Parade,” which played short runs in 2011 and ’12. Happily, nobody tried to add a plot for the Broadway transfer, so the show is still a string of pearls — much like the 1981 Ellington musical “Sophisticated Ladies.”
Dulé Hill (“The West Wing”) provides a wispy thread by introducing some scenes with Langston Hughes poetry. He also performs several numbers, though he pales alongside his electric co-stars.
Guest canary Barrino doesn’t face the enormous pressure she had in carrying “The Color Purple,” and she’s remarkably at ease here. Swathed in Isabel Toledo’s sensational gowns, she displays impressive control on the smoldering “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and confident swing on “Zaz Zuh Zaz.”
Just as good is Adriane Lenox, a Tony-winning dramatic actress (“Doubt”) who, in two blues songs, reveals a gift for comic mugging and saucy
As in old-school revues, “After Midnight” highlights a range of specialty performers. While Carlyle isn’t the most imaginative choreographer, you can’t help but thrill as his dancers triumph in wildly different styles. So we effortlessly move from Alvin Ailey alums Karine Plantadit and Desmond Richardson (late of Twyla Tharp’s “Come Fly Away” and “Movin’ Out,” respectively) to hip-hop master Virgil “Lil’ O” Gadson, who engages in a spirited battle with the rubber-limbed Julius “iGlide” Chisolm.
Of course, there’s plenty of tap, too. And that, like Duke Ellington’s music, never gets old.
Nov 3, 2013
Why go on about the spectacular After Midnight, other than to say that for pure entertainment it comes as near being worth every penny charged as anything does in this gold-plated ticket era of ours? Why go on about an intermissionless 90-minute musical revue in which each number that for style and ebullient wit tops the one that’s just preceded it, other than to say it’s an instant got-to-go-to?
Why go on about a cast of peerless performers singing songs from the ’20s and ’30s by Great American Songbook biggies like Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler, E. Y. Harburg, Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh, Sippie Wallace, Irving Mills, Ethel Waters, Henry Nemo, Cab Calloway and Johnny Hodges, other than to say drop everything and head over to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre quick-like?
Why go on about singers like Fantasia Barrino, who’s come some way since her American Idol win (and subsequent fab appearance in The Color Purple, to blare beautifully such hotsy-totsy standards as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Stormy Weather” (in the stormiest fashion possible), “Zaz Zuh Zaz” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street”?
Why go on about multi-talented Dulé Hill suavely emceeing proceedings intended to summon memories of Langston Hughes’s Harlem and leading the balloon-carrying ensemble through “I’ve Got the World on a String” and the entire ensemble through the “Freeze and Melt” finale? Why go on about Adriane Lenox wowing the crowd with the bright and bluesy “Women Be Wise” and the bluesy and bright “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night”?
Why go on about dancer Karine Plantadit, who was unforgettable in Movin’ Out and Come Fly Away and, slim and blond and willowy as a reed in the wind, is back now to remind everyone how she rivets attention with seeming ease? Or why go on about Virgil “Lil’ O” Gadson, who has the unique terping manner of a 21st-century Jimmy Cagney, or Julius “iGlide” Chisolm, who has the bone-free moves of a 21st-century Ray Bolger? Why try to deny that anyone wouldn’t want to see a reprise or two of the pair doing their hypnotic “Hotentot” turn.
Why go on about what the flashing-eyed Carmen Ruby Floyd does with Ellington’s “Creole Woman”? Or what she, Rosena M. Hill Jackson and Bryonha Marie Parham do while harmonizing on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” and “The Gal From Joe’s”? Or what Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards does with “The Skrontch” and later with “Raisin’ the Rent” and “Get Yourself a New Broom.”
Why dwell on Warren Carlyle’s direction and choreography which flashes back to stage and cinema numbers from the dazzling era and includes tight five-man tie-and-tails drills, tapping till the floor shakes, jitterbugging and balletic routines? Why tongue-wag on Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director Wynton Marsalis’s musical direction and the 14-piece Ellington-esque band he’s put together, under conductor Daryl Waters, and featuring, among the others, trumpeter Alonso Horne, who indubitably has the right surname?
Why expatiate on Isabel Toledo’s costumes which glorify the period(s) and range from showgirls in feathers to gowns that glitter and glide to women in cloches to dancers in Lindy-ready sports outfits to men in precursor zoot suits to the all-white-outfit finale? Or on John Lee Beatty’s lit-up bandstand and series of sumptuous curtains? Or on Howell Binkley’s endlessly variable lighting design or Peter Hylenski’s immaculate sound design?
Why harp about an undertaking–seen in an earlier version as Cotton Club Parade at City Center–that’s intended to hark back to a flourishing African-American musical culture but, while saluting it, may very well rise to an idealized version that was only occasionally reached during the actual Harlem Renaissance.
At one late moment, Hill mentions “a dream deferred,” which is, it should be needless to say, a reference to the Hughes poem from which Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is derived. But what’s on display here is nothing like a dream realized. It’s a dream realized.
Why go on about any of this when the wise thing to do is to advise readers they really ought to stop reading and secure those precious seats. As Langston Hughes insists, nothing good happens to a dream deferred. Therefore, where this dream is concerned, defer no longer. Or as Yip Harburg puts in some crooning mouths during the marvy evening, “Ain’t it de solid truth?