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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Brooks Atkinson



Broadway’s latest hit sweeps through the White Way like the tail of a comet, lighting up the stage of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on West 47th Street. After Midnight is not your conventional show, but rather an old-is-new-again take on the musical revue, a sort of vaudeville, at Harlem’s Cotton Club circa the late-1920s and 1930s. The show is full of brilliant period songs and exquisite dancing, serenaded by that rarity, a full orchestra – courtesy of the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, overseen by Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and one of the show’s producers.
If you can remember classic revues of this genre – Ain’t Misbehavin’, Bubbling Brown Sugar, Sophisticated Ladies, and Black and Blue, you will get an idea of the galvanic excitement of After Midnight. If the show celebrates Harlem’s Cotton Club – which opened in 1923 and was a white-only venue, though it highlighted a galaxy of black stars and jazz musicians – After Midnight is really a tribute to the Cotton Club’s resident composer and bandleader, Duke Ellington, whose dazzling songs and musical arrangements are prominently featured throughout the show.
Dulé Hill is the club venue’s interlocutor, and to start things off he invokes the legendary writer Langston Hughes, an early jazz poet who wrote about this era as a time “when Harlem was in vogue.” The show begins with “Happy as the Day Is Long,” with each member of the cast walking onstage in jaunty, dress-white costumes, singing and dancing, singly, in pairs or in full chorus. The pattern of introducing all of the show’s 25 players is an ancient tradition, setting the stage for the whole evening’s follies, which, at 100 minutes with no intermission, fly by thanks to the impeccable staging and choreography of Warren Carlyle, whose theatrical sense of fun never lets up.
Fantasia Barrino is one of the show’s lead singers, who you might remember from TV’s American Idol. She is slim and looking stylish in nightclub togs, and has a wonderful voice for bluesy ballads like “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and “Stormy Weather.” She holds her own with the verbally difficult “Zaz, Zuh, Zaz” with a group of Cotton Club fellows, and tap dances to “On the Sunny Side of the Street” with C.K. Edwards and Christopher Broughton. Barrino emerges as a complete stage star in this production.
Adriane Lenox, who I have only seen in straight plays – she won a Tony for Doubt – here plays a jocular and hilarious lady in two specialized “advice” songs as a sassy instructress who advises “Women Be Wise,” and in another “Go Back Where You Started Last Night.” Lenox keeps the two songs’ flow starting and stopping to keep her nonsense and hilarity going on and on, which the audience loves.
There are a slew of excellent dancers in the show, but there are two iconic ones, Julius “iGlide” Chisolm and Virgil “Lil’O” Gadson. They are terrific individually, but when they team up for the dance-off “Hottentot” they are on fire. Julius’ “glide” and Virgil’s break dancing show off their very different footwork styles and turn out to be spellbinding.
I have picked out only a few of the talented ensemble that makes up After Midnight, but I must admit that everyone onstage at the Atkinson is a wonder. The elegant Cotton Club settings are by John Lee Beatty, the atmospheric lighting is by Howell Brinkley, and a special nod should be given to Isabel Toledo, a fashion designer making her initial debut as a theatre costume designer, and who shows off a gifted sensibility for the fresh, funny and sophisticated elements of Harlem’s 20s and 30s style.
After Midnight is a show that smiles. The cast smiles, and the audience smiles back. That’s an amicable feeling you don’t see often in the theater these days.
Dividend: After the cast takes its final bows, don’t leave the theater. The Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars give the audience a heavenly bonus rendition of Duke Ellington, Irving Mills and Harry Carney’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm” to warm up the chilly weather outside.


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