THE BLOG

First Nighter: 'After Midnight' Is a Revue You Absolutely Mustn't Miss

11/03/2013 08:06 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

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?