Tag Archives: The Cotton Club

Nr 465: Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978)

6 Mar

Ain’t Misbevavin’
1978: Broadway, 1 604 perfs.
1979: West End
1982: Tv-version
1988: Broadway Revival, 176 perfs.
1995: West End Revival

Book: Murray Horwitz, Richard Maltby, Jr.,
Music & Lyrics: Various composers and lyricists

The musical is a tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and 1930s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance, an era of growing creativity, cultural awareness, and ethnic pride, and takes its title from the 1929 Waller song ”Ain’t Misbehavin’.” It was a time when Manhattan nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were the playgrounds of high society and Lenox Avenue dives were filled with piano players banging out the new beat known as swing.
Five performers present an evening of rowdy, raunchy, and humorous songs that encapsulate the various moods of the era and reflect Waller’s view of life as a journey meant for pleasure and play.

This is one swinging show. If you don’t start tapping your toes, snapping your fingers and break out in a goofy happy smile while listening to the cast recording you’re in serious trouble, my friend. Because this is an infectious, melodious, well sung, well arranged and overall brilliantly staged masterpiece of a show. Without a doubt one of the best, if not the best revue ever to be presented on Broadway. At least in my opinion.
Now, I must admit that I saw the original London production in 1979 and not the Broadway one, but both André DeShields and Charlayne Woodard from the Broadway show were in it – and it was a brilliant production. I was totally blown away.
Just the way they delivered the songs… They weren’t just singing the words they were telling a story, really telling it and not just singing beautiful notes (although they sang beautifully, all of them) and they were acting the songs. They made every song come to life and it was heaven to me. I hadn’t realized, till then, that you could deliver a song in this way, with so much passion, engaging storytelling and with total audience contact. I was sucked into the world of Fats Waller, his time and his music.
And another first for me was when André sang The Vipers Drag, lightning up a reefer on stage, slithering around, ”getting high” and at one point started to flirt with some girls on the first row and offering them a toke. When they reached for the joint he pulled it away from them with an evil smile and wagged his finger in a ”no, no” sign which had the entire audience screaming with laughter. I had never seen an actor interact with the audience that way before. I loved it. I wanted more of it and I always think of that moment when I’m on stage myself because that’s the kind of contact I want to have with the public too.
I was in my teens when I saw this show and it was one of my first visits to a musical all by myself and that was an adventure in it self.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s East 73rd Street cabaret on February 8, 1978. It became such a smash hit that they decided to develop it into a full-scale production that opened on Broadway in may that same year.
The cast at the Manhattan Theatre Club included  Nell Carter, André DeShields, Ken Page, Armelia McQueen, and Irene Cara. Yep, that’s the same Irene Cara who went on to play ”Coco Hernandez” in the 1980 film Fame and recorded the film’s Academy Award and Golden Globe winning title song ”Fame”. She also sang and co-wrote the song ”Flashdance… What a Feeling” (from the 1983 film Flashdance), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1984. 
On Broadway Irene was replaced with Charlayne Woodard.

There is also a sixth very importend cast member in the production and that is the orchestrator Luther Henderson (1919 – 2003), who’s orchestrations and vocal arrangement are one of the resons why this is such a brilliant and joyful show. They are absolutely brilliant! And he appeared as the on stage pianist in the original production.
Luther served as orchestrator, arranger, and musical director on more than fifty Broadway musicals from Beggar’s Holiday (1946) to Jelly’s Last Jam (1992).

In 1995 there was a national tour of the show starring The Pointer Sisters. Although it never reached Broadway, as originally planned, a recording of highlights from the show was released.

The Broadway show won:
3 Tony Awards: Best musical, Featured Actress in a musical (Nell Carter) and Best Direction of a musical (Richard Maltby, Jr.).
3 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical, Actor and Actress in a musical (Ken Page and Nell Carter)
2 Theatre World Awards for Nell Carter and Armelia McQueen.
The Tv-version from 1982 won 2 Primetime Emmy Awards for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for Nell Cater and André DeShields.

Reviews:
A joyous celebration. … This really is Fats Waller on Broadway. It is a memorial that breathes. It is a testament to a curious genius – one of the few people you seem to know from the memories of their recorded voice. … simply a Broadway show that you will never forget. And it is really Waller. It really is.
– Clive Barnes, New York Post

What whistles, hoots, throws off sparks and moves at about 180 miles an hour, even though it is continually stopped? Ain’t Misbehavin’.
– Richard Eder, New York Times

To put it as judiciously as possible, Ain’t Misbehavin’ has a first act that will knock your ears off and a second that will come back for the rest of you.
– Walter Kerr, Times

Since this is Broadway, the land of bristling microphones and loudspeakers by the carload, there is a tape deck and a pair of sound consoles at the rear of the theatre that look elaborate and complicated enough to send the show into space. But that’s just what the cast of Ain’t Misbehavin’ does all by itself. Wow!
– Douglas Watt, Daily News

Videos:
At the Tony Awards
Nell Carter singing I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling
Lounging at the Waldorf
2018 Highlights reel
The Complete Tv-version of the show
Fats Waller sings Ain’t Misbehavin’

Nr 392: After Midnight

1 Sep

After Midnight (2013)
Revy, Broadway, 272 föreställningar
Musik: Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh m fl
Sångtexter: Ted Koehler, Dorothy Fields, Duke Ellington m fl
Dikter: Langston Hughes
Baserad på City Center’s Encores! revy The Cotton Club Parade (2011)

Föreställningen är en revy som utspelar sig i Harlem ”after midnight”, och är egentligen bara en slags extra stor och påkostad krogshow så som jag i min fantasi (som är ganska influerad av musikalfilmer från eran) föreställer mig att de såg ut på 1920/30-talet. Och det är precis det som är tanken: Den är ett försök att återskapa stämningen och innehållet av en av The Cotton Club’s berömda floor shows från eran.

Hela showen består av ett antal sång- och/eller dansnummer av hög kvalitet ibland inramade av dikter av Langston Hughes som en vitklädd konferencier läser upp. Det är stepp, blues, jazz, swing, torch songs, scat och street dance om vartannat. Det senare kanske inte riktigt passar in ”i tiden” men är ganska så häftigt ändå.

Här har vi en show där även orkestern för en gång skull fick ta ”center stage” vid flera tillfällen, för det gick att flytta fram orkesterpodiet så de hamnade längst framme på scenen. Och 16-manna bandet som lirade var föreställningens absoluta stjärnor enligt mig. De lyfte showen till oanade höjder med sin musikalitet, groovet, svänget, ”improvisationerna”, de galna soloinsatserna och den fullständigt hysteriska energin de utstrålade – non stop i över 90 minuter – makalöst!


De flesta i ensemblen var okända för mig och säkert också för större delen av publiken men under hela spelperioden tog man in olika gästartister som fick jobbet att vara ”stjärnan” i showen bl a K.D. Lang, Toni Braxton, Vanessa Williams och Patti LaBelle. Den version jag såg hade American Idol vinnaren från 2004, Fantasia Barrino (kanske mest känd som bara Fantasia), i divarollen. Den tjejen har en fantastisk pipa men var ganska så ointressant att titta på. Hon sjöng otroligt bra men hon berättade inget med sin sång och  det blir skickligt men tomt liksom.

Då var flera av den ”fasta” ensemblen betydligt bättre på att berätta nått, speciellt gillade jag Adriane Lenox som lyckades få in en lätt cynisk, livserfarenhetsfylld humor med småfräcka blinkningar och glirningar till publiken i sina nummer. Nått som behövdes för det är inte direkt en show som har ett överflöd av humoristiska inslag, även om man försökte ”vitsa till det”  ibland. Här fanns några hyfsat komiska dansnummer och ett eller annat roligt sångnummer men i övrigt så var det mesta polerat, snyggt, skickligt och ganska så kliniskt.
Och inte riktigt engagerande i längden.
Blir lite långt som teaterföreställning, speciellt när man kör den som en drygt 90 minuter lång enaktare.
Att istället sitta på en mörk inpyrd klubb i Harlem omkring 1928, efter midnatt, med en iskall, god drink i ena handen och en cigg i den andra och se det här uppdelat på 2 akter… Mmmm, det hade varit nått det!

Kuriosa:
Den vann en Tony Award för bästa koreografi.
Den fick 2 Drama Desk Awards: bästa revy och koreografi.
Även från Outer Critics Circle Award fick den pris för bästa korografi.

After Midnight
är baserad på New York City Center’s Special Event The Cotton Club Parade, en revykonsert som var tänkt att återskpa lite av magin som utspelade sig på den berömda jazzklubbem The Cotton Club i Harlem, New York. Konserten blev en succé och man valde att flytta den till Broadway och gav den då titeln After Midnight, fråga mig inte varför för originalets titel tycker jag säger mer om vad den här showen var.

Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert is a program that has been presented by New York City Center since 1994. Encores! is dedicated to performing the full score of musicals that rarely are heard in New York City.
Detta att framföra ”bortglömda” musikaler i konsertversioner har lett till att flera av de gamla klassikerna de framfört har fått nya castinspelningar där man fått plats med betydligt mer av musikalens musik än vad som var möjligt på en LP-skiva. Detta har varit en enorm källa till lycka för en musikalnörd som jag.
Konserterna har i vissa fall också väckt liv i shower. Chicago som man framförde 1996 blev så uppskattad att man flyttade konsertversionen, lite lätt utökad och bearbetad men med samma sparsmakade kostymer och scenografi, till Broadway där den fick premiär på hösten samma år. Den går där fortfarande 20 år senare och är nu den längst spelade amerikanska musikalen i Broadways historia.

Press:
I mean no disrespect to the superabundance of talented performers in this jubilant show when I say that they are all playing second fiddle, if you will, to the main attraction. This would be the 16 musicians called the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, stacked in a bandstand at the back of the stage for much of the evening, rollicking through the music of Duke Ellington and Harold Arlen and others with a verve that almost captivates the eye as much as it does the ear. It will be a long time before Broadway hosts music making this hot, sweet and altogether glorious again.

You know you are in the presence of musicians of a supremely high caliber, but the virtuosity never feels prepackaged or mechanical. There’s too much joy in the playing, and that’s the feeling audiences will be floating out of the theater on when the last note has died out.
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times


… After Midnight,” a sleek, elegant tribute to Duke Ellington and the glory days of the Cotton Club that brings class back to Broadway.


But the show’s true star is the 17-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars orchestra, handpicked by Wynton Marsalis. It sits in plain view onstage, pumping out pulsating takes of Ellington’s big-band classics, popularized by the likes of Ethel Waters and Cab Calloway. If the joint is jumping — and boy, is it! — it’s thanks to those guys.

As in old-school revues, “After Midnight” highlights a range of specialty performers. While Carlyle isn’t the most imaginative choreographer, you can’t help but thrill as his dancers triumph in wildly different styles.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post


Broadway’s new arrival is a dazzling musical revue that jets audiences back to Harlem’s jazzy 1930s heyday. It’s an exhilarating joyride all the way.


In the ensemble of 25 vocalists and dancers, it’s easy to pick a favorite: It’s whoever is on stage at any given moment.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News


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?

David Finkle, Huffington Post

Video:
Trailer för City Centers Special Event
Snuttar ur The Cotton Club Parade
First Look at AFTER MIDNIGHT on Broadway  
Toni Braxton
Fantasia
K.D. Lang  
Vanessa Williams   

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