Review by Marilyn Lester
For eight months on Broadway, happy audiences left the hit show, “After Midnight” in a state of euphoria. That experience was repeated in the “After Midnight Reunion” with a perfect storm of song, dance and musical talents.
Producer T. Oliver Reid continues to grow in charm, affability and confidence as a host (and in the depth of his singing as a performer). Plus, there’s the fun element; everyone in the cast was having such a good time it couldn’t help but be contagious. This company of performers, bonded in the original production, were happy to get back together. The After Midnight Band, some of the coolest cats in the business, had an especial and easy camaraderie, and a force that propelled six instruments into sounding like a full-complement jazz orchestra.
Music Director and pianist Adam Birnbaum led off the set with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” Close your eyes and imagine George Gershwin at the keys; Birnbaum’s classical underpinnings with a spirited jazz overlay yielded a lush version of Duke’s standard. Later, Birnbaum played Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me” with the same rich effect. The entire band launched into Mercer Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” after a short video welcome by Dulé Hill, a star of the original show. Jennifer Vincent on double bass and Alvester Garnett on drums provided vibrant rhythm, with Art Baron on trombone, the aptly-named Alphonso Horne on trumpet and Kurt Bacher on alto sax.
Reid, with Everett Bradley, Monroe Kent III, and Britton J. Smith, recreated one of their hit numbers from the original show, Ellington’s “Digga Digga Doo,” a Cotton Club favorite. In fact, “After Midnight” was originally subtitled, “The Cotton Club Musical,” which means that dancing will happen. Karine Plantadit acted an emotive dance improv to Reid’s “Sophisticated Lady,” another Ellington standard. Not to be outdone, the apparently boneless and hugely talented Virgil “lil O” Gadson danced an improv to Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.” Tap virtuosa Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards produced amazing sounds to Birnbaum’s piano rendition of Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.”
Solo highlights of this pulsing, energetic evening included Britton J. Smith’s bossa nova bounce of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado,” Reid with the Harold Arlen standard “That Old Black Magic,” and Carmen Ruby Floyd – who has the rare ability to adapt her strong operatic voice to popular music – with the Right-Forrest tune, “And This Is My Beloved.” With husband, J. Bernard Calloway (who read the Langston Hughes poem, “In Time of Silver Rain”), the duo performed the “Tennis Song” from the Coleman-Zippel musical, “City of Angels.”
One happy highlight of this reunion concert was that members of the band were able to showcase their musical prowess with generous solos. Vincent, with Birnbaum, scored one for the double bass team with Ellington’s “Pitter Patter Panther,” while Art Baron (who played with Duke back in the day) led out front with Ellington’s sumptuous “Sunset and the Mockingbird,” and took the spotlight with relish for his own composition, the audience-interactive tune, “Oh, Austin Behave.”
The penultimate number of the night was one that truly invoked the spirit of the Cotton Club. With Carmen Ruby Floyd singing the Beyonce-Jay Z hit, “Crazy In Love,” hoofers Alyssa Shorte, Marija Abney, Erin Moore, Monique Smith and Jay Staten danced up a storm among the audience. The band wrapped up this smartly conceived, beautifully balanced evening with Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” A spontaneous audience chorus of “do wah do wahs’s” brought this bright and vibrant reunion to its reluctant close.
After Midnight Reunion Concert, Friday, April 3 at 9:30 PM
54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, 646-476-3551, www.54below.com