Famous Queens resident trumpeter Louis Armstrong was one of the talented jazz musicians who performed at the Cotton Club in Harlem between 1923 -1940, the nightclub’s heyday. Although it was a whites-only establishment, the Club featured the best Black musicians, performers and dancers of the time.
To recreate that musical era, Wynton Marsalis, artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, handpicked a 17-piece big band and 25 performers for “After Midnight” at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
TV’s Dule Hill (“Psych,” “West Wing”) serves as emcee, quoting poetry from Langston Hughes. Sometimes, he is the transition from one act into the next, with his pleasant manner, smiling face and tap dancing.
The Cotton Club often had “Celebrity Nights” on Sunday and, similarly, “After Midnight” will feature celebrities in each performance. The first in a series of name performers is American Idol winner Fantasia, last seen on Broadway in “The Color Purple.” Fantasia is excellent, performing four familiar songs, including “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Stormy Weather.” The most enjoyable number is the spirited Cab Calloway hit, “Zaz Zuh Zaz,” that she sings with the four male cast performers seated in the box seats.
Although all the performers were wonderful, Adriane Lenox, winner of the Tony and Drama Desk award for “Doubt,” stands out. Not only is she a fine actress, but here she proves how well she can deliver a song. She sings “Women Be Wise” and later, reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald, she performs “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night.”
The Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars conducted by Daryl Waters are 17 incredible musicians who accompany the singers and dancers and then get to play independently. On stage the entire time, they are not only consummate professionals but they actually enjoy what they are doing. Some of them were smiling throughout the show. It was hard not to smile back.
I had feared that “After Midnight” would be a mediocre jukebox musical with performers imitating famous singers and telling a story that bogs down the music. Happily, I was wrong and finally this season we have a musical that’s all music! “After Midnight” is a nonstop exhilarating musical! Tickets would be a wonderful gift for the jazz lover on your shopping list.