During the 1920s and 1930s, the Cotton Club in New York City was known as one of the hottest nightclubs around. Well-to-do patrons turned out in large numbers to listen to performances by top jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Lena Horne. Today’s audiences can step back into the Cotton Club’s prime at “After Midnight,” a Broadway revue show that is up for a Tony Award in the category of Best Musical.
This 90-minute show, directed by Warren Carlyle, is packed with 28 jazz numbers that you might have heard performed if you’d been at the Cotton Club nearly 100 years ago. The goal of “After Midnight” is not to teach the audience about the racism-riddled history of the Cotton Club, where blacks could entertain but only whites could enter the doors as patrons, but to tip its hat to the music that came from the nightclub’s stage and the performers who made it happen. Songs include Duke Ellington’s “Daybreak Express” and “Tap Mathematician,” Sippie Wallace’s “Women Be Wise” and Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen’s “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”
“After Midnight”showcases a regular cast of more than 20 performers who marvelously entertain the audience with their singing and dancing prowess. Although all are talented, Adriane Lenox has received special attention with a Tony nod of her own. She’s up for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.
A highlight for many fans is the rotating cast of special performers that have been part of “After Midnight.” These guest stars have included Fantasia Barrino of “American Idol” fame as well as Vanessa Williams and Toni Braxton, among others.
To give all the credit to the singers, however, would be an oversight. “After Midnight” wouldn’t be the same without the instrumentation, provided by the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars. These musicians, conducted by Daryl Waters, put the swing, the sweetness and the soul in every number they play, and they’d make a standout show all on their own. Add in the singing and the dancing, choreographed by director Carlyle, and you have all the makings of a hit Broadway performance.
Dulé Hill appears as The Host who, along with a little singing of his own, intersperses the musical numbers with poetry by the famed Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes. It is the poetry, rather than a scripted storyline, that serves to tie the show together. After all, “After Midnight” is really all about the music.
While the show lacks both history and plot, if it’s entertainment you’re after, it’s entertainment you’ll get. From music to dancing, poetry to singing, “After Midnight” is an hour-and-a-half designed to mesmerize your ears and delight your eyes.
“After Midnight” opened Nov. 3, 2013 and is currently on an open run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. In addition to Best Musical and Lenox’s Best Actress nomination, the show is also up for five other Tony Awards in the categories of Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Sound Design of a Musical and Best Lighting Design of a Musical.
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Meghan Ross is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.