The great new musical 'After Midnight' will take you back to the Golden Age of Harlem jazz - and every number is spectacular.
Perhaps one of the most frequent criticisms of the present state of Broadway theatre is that it lacks imagination. New and original works have been replaced by film to stage adaptations and jukebox musical revues. It’s a fair criticism – one that I’ve lamented numerous times, as well – yet every now and then, a work comes along that makes all of that seem forgivable. Such is the case with After Midnight, the newly opened musical revue that transports us back to the Golden Age of Harlem jazz.
Featuring over twenty-five song and dance numbers, this high voltage show overflows with both charisma and talent. Currently headlining the cast is 2004 American Idol winner, Fantasia Barrino. The show is structured so that every few months, a rotating guest star will appear, harkening back to the days of Harlem nightclubs where star vocalists would regularly make guest appearances – next up on the agenda are K.D. Lang and Toni Braxton. While Fantasia’s numbers are memorable – and she successfully manages to bring down the house on each one – the show’s success does not ride on her shoulders. Nor does it depend on the show’s other star, Dulé Hill of television’s West Wing and Psych, who plays the host of the nightclub and recites Langston Hughes’s poetry in between numbers. While Hill is charming and likeable, at times he proves a distraction from the show’s real stars: the very impressive ensemble of singers and dancers that deliver an impressive evening of nonstop, heart pounding entertainment.
From the likes of Duke Ellington and Harold Arlen to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, After Midnight brings to life some of the greatest jazz standards to a new audience. In an era when most Broadway shows are interested in trimming its orchestra down to an absolute minimum to save on production overhead, this production boasts a seventeen-member band – all members of Jazz at Lincoln Center and handpicked by multiple Grammy Award winner Wynton Marsalis. The big brass numbers are one of the show’s real highlights, and the onstage orchestra appears to have just as much fun as its audience members.
Under the direction and choreography of Broadway veteran Warren Carlyle (Follies, Chaplin), the dancing in this production is some of the best I’ve seen in over a decade of regular Broadway theatergoing. Not only is the choreography fresh – it’s also daring. Among the many standout performers is Jared Grimes and his unforgettable interpretation of the “Tap Mathematician” and the classic hit, “It Don’t Mean a Thing” as he manages to tap on the perimeter of the stage, with only centimeters separating him and the audience. It’s one of those thrilling moments that can only occur in live theatre – and, jukebox show or not, I’ll take it.
Other memorable numbers include Fantasia’s rendition of Cab Calloway and Harry White’s “Zaz Zuh Zaz” and Tony Award winner Adriane Lenox’s rendition of “Women Be Wise.” These might be old favorites, but they are given new life in this production. Clocking in at only ninety minutes, be prepared to barely catch your breath between numbers. Once the curtain rises, I guarantee you’ll be begging for more by show’s end.
Langston Hughes once wrote that the heartbeat of Harlem was a drumbeat. Call it a drumbeat, call it whatever you like – whatever you name it, it’s alive and in full health.
Harlem’s Golden Age of jazz might be considered a bygone era for many, yet this production begs for reconsideration. Whatever the year or the era, After Midnight’s time is just right. It’s now.
After Midnightopened on November 3, 2013 and is playing an open ended run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Conceived by Jack Viertel. Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle. Starring Fantasia Barrino and Dulé Hill. Music performed by Jazz at Lincoln Center.