By: Sandi Durell
It’s been a long time since I was inside the Apollo Theater on West 125th Street in Harlem. Why did it take me so long to revisit? I guess when I recently spoke with Maurice Hines in an interview at 54 Below and he told me about his “Apollo Club Harlem,” it sparked my interest and imagination.
Well, I can’t tell you how exciting it was to revisit this historic theater where the great jazz and dance artists of the 30s and 40s headlined – Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, The Nicholas Brothers and so many more, including the Apollo’s chorus line ‘The Gorgeous Hot Steppers.’ The history is rich and filled with great musical legends.
Set up cabaret style on the main level – little tables, lamps – the staff was elegantly dressed in black tie (yes, even the gals) to fit the occasion. You can order drinks and some lite fare.
The Apollo Club Harlem orchestra conducted by David Berger and Isaac Ben Ayala on piano featured some of the best brass players around.
If you haven’t seen “After Midnight” on Broadway, this is as close as you can get to that grand era, replete with outstanding talent, costumes (by Emilio Sosa), set and lighting design by Burke Wilmore, and the music and dance legacy of the great icons of the past. The only problem is that “Apollo Club Harlem” had a very short run – February 20, 21, 22 & 23!
So let me tell you a little more about it. Conceived by Mikki Shepard, the show is directed and choreographed by Maurice Hines. Hard to believe that Hines is 70 years young, moves like a young stallion and is one cool cat. After “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue”
(Duke Ellington 1937) opened the show with the extraordinary dance moves of the new “Gorgeous Hot Steppers,” it was Maurice Hines’ turn in “Drop Me Off in Harlem” – he’s the ultimate showman. He likes coming back to the Apollo where the audiences talk back to you! After some family history about brother Gregory and himself performing right on that same stage when Gregory was 7 and Maurice was 5, he had the audience in the palm of his hand.
On the bill was Margot B. of Boardwalk Empire TV fame, looking slim, sexy and beautiful as she returned to her singing roots (Rent) with “Stormy Weather,” “Empty Bed Blues” and more. Maurice (zoot suited) returned in a “Minnie the Moocher” dance segment and we all had a chance to get in on the act – Hidehidehidehi Hodehodehodeho !
The variety show included the talents of the dancing Manzari Brothers in “Jumpin’ Jive,” and after an intermission, another dancing brother duo, the amazing Wondertwins, took center stage in “The Mooche” accompanied by female dancers Aqura Lacey, Jennifer Locke, Tera-Lee Pollin and Hollie E. Wright, and they literally shook the stage with their body antics making it evident why they’re called “Wondertwins.”
The ever-talented Kevin Mahogany, whose smooth jazz vocals are reminiscent of the great Joe Williams, sang some heavenly tunes: “Lost in Loveliness” and “Every Day I Have the Blues,” getting lots of audience reaction.
There were additional dance segments to “Mambo Inn,” with inspired choreography, and a duo song segment with Kevin and Margot “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
With Hines tappin’ up a storm, a bevy of beautiful dancers and a top notch jazz orchestra, this show should be on a continuous run! And after the show – – – you even get a chance to go up on stage and dance to the orchestra rhythms that play on.
I don’t want to leave out some of the other dancers such as Alvon Reed, Major Nesby, Jaquez Andre Sims and Slim Mello – all top notch!
Let’s hope this show revives again at The Apollo. You don’t want to miss it!