Review: ‘Shake Loose’ at MetroStage

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Shake Loose: A Musical Night of Blues Moods & Icons

Hang on to your seats, guys and gals! Over three dozen songs – twelve never sung before at MetroStage – and a libretto comprise a whirlwind, non-stop ninety minute romp and stomp down memory lane in the new musical production of Shake Loose: A Musical Night of Blues Moods & Icons.

The cast of 'Shake Loose': Anthony , Lori , Roz White, and Photo by Chris Banks. Photo by Chris Banks.
The cast of ‘Shake Loose’: Anthony Manough, Lori Williams, Roz White, and Rayshun Lamarr. Photo by Chris Banks.

Under the skilled direction of Thomas W. Jones II, iconic writer, director, choreographer, and lyricist; with Musical Director William Knowles and William Hubbard, Co-Music Director, this artistic trio take on with class and finesse the herculean task of showcasing thirty-plus songs from nearly a dozen plays Jones produced in the last twenty years. With a professional working relationship spanning over fifteen years, this creative trio (all Helen Hayes Award recipients) have honed their craft to a high level many in the DMV area, including Carolyn Griffin, Producing Artistic Director, have come to appreciate and love.

Jones describes Shake Loose as “a labor of love with themes of tales of love, loss, and the redemptive power of music.” Expect to hear and enjoy the emotion-grabbing sounds of gospel, the cool sway of jazz, fast tempo be bop, pure blues, rhythm and blues, danceable funk, and the 1920-1930’s era of Bessie Smith; the 1930’s-1940’s Harlem Renaissance; the 1940-1950’s hipster swing; and even audio visual recollections and poignant songs of the epoch 1960’s Civil Rights and Vietnam War era.

In a recent DCMTA interview with David Siegel, Hubbard said, “Music has a scent, an aroma, a smell that the audience inhales and adds to what they see and hear.” I can say that the scent on Sunday was funky, earthy, sensual, funny, and riské at times; all to the huge enjoyment of a sold out Sunday evening crowd. As a teenager in the sixties, I quickly recalled the ‘Blue Basement Wet’ of sweaty bodies and slow dancing with boys whose hands were like tentacles in dark, dank neighborhood basements.

One important caveat: attentive listening to the lyrics is absolutely necessary as the performers’ transition from one song to another is rapid, fluid, and seamless. Veteran theater audiences who love and patronize MetroStage and Jones’ work will quickly recognize phrases from other musicals such as Ladies Swing the Blues, Cool Papa’s Party, and Three Sistahs and appreciate Jones’ melding of numerous themes into this new, well written compilation.

Themes of loss and redemption and reconciling past and present are of monumental importance, even if the youth of today tend to discount them as old folks stories of no relevancy. These themes transcend time and space, especially for the African American minority citizen population whose history in the United States has been one of struggle regardless of how far the majority citizen population may profess we have come. It is this history that the Jones-Hubbard-Knowles trio shines their artistic spotlight on entreating African Americans particularly to not forget what their ancestors accomplished. It is often said that we cannot know where we are going if we do not know where we have been.

Even without getting too deeply into underlying historical themes, or personally being able to identify all the songs and eras portrayed the collective performance is immensely riveting and entertaining. Coming of age during the Civil Rights and Vietnam War era, “Don’t Say Goodbye” (Holler), sung by the Company, riveted me right back to the sixties where I first got my identity of being ‘black and proud.’ Like many others, I put away the straightening iron, donned red, black, and green clothing, and said it loud. Other favorites were “In My Father’s House” sung by the Company, and “My Sister Beloved My Friend” (Three Sistahs), sung by the Company,  because I witnessed the emotional fallout of Vietnam through my brother who served and I grew up in a black, segregated church which was, and still is representative of the most segregated hour in America: eleven o’clock.

It is my pleasure to highlight the outstanding performances of four very talented performers: MetroStage veterans Anthony Manough, Roz White, and Lori Williams,  and joined for this production by Rayshun Lamarr, new to MetroStage. To mention every song would take all of the surprise and fun out of it for audiences planning to attend, thus a short review of several songs which drew standing ovations: “Why Me?” (Cool Papa’s Party), sung by Rayshun, Roz and Lori, and “Why Must I Stand Alone” (Bessie’s Blues), sung by Manough, Roz and Lori. I am a pushover for torch songs, especially when sung by tenor voices so Manough’s rendition of “Fall” (A Musical Night in the Life of Franie Lyman) was right on time.

As one would expect, Jones saved the very best for last. Act 2’s  compilation under “Shake Loose” scored five ‘10s’ from the audience and me with their proud, soulful, fierce renditions of “How Long?” (Cool Papa’s Party), sung by Rayshun and Company; “Better in God’s Time, (Pearl Bailey.. by request); sung by Roz; “Never Too Much Love (Cool Papa’s Party), sung by Rayshun & Lori; “Shake Loose” (Shake Loose), sung by the Company, and a sweet, sweet rendition of “Hold Me” (Three Sistahs) sung by the Company.

The cast of 'Shake Loose': Rayshun LaMarr, Roz White, Lori Williams, Roz White, and Anthony Manough. Photo by Chris Banks.
The cast of ‘Shake Loose’: Anthony Manough, Roz White, Lori Williams, Roz White, and Rayshun Lamarr. Photo by Chris Banks.

One cannot have a musical without acknowledging and critiquing the music. I happily add my applause to the enthusiastic responses of others in the Sunday night audience. My definition of a consummate music professional is someone who can take any theme and put it to music to succinctly support the story that is being told with (or without) language and movement. These six individuals ‘filled the playbill’ and then some:  William Knowles (Conductor/Piano); Grant Langford (saxophone); Yusef Chisholm (bass); Greg Holloway (drums); Alvin Trask, and DeAndre Schaifer (trumpet).

In summary, I asked myself the question, did the creative cast and band ‘shake loose’ the audience to new or renewed awareness? Yes, in my opinion they did.  Something surreal happened the several times performers left the stage, raced up the stairs into the audience; normal social inhibitions fell away. People stood up, shouted in agreement or recognition, and the gentleman next to me, clearly in at least his eighties, cried out ‘bravo.’

Shake yourself loose and get to MetroStage for this must-see and entertaining production performed by this ‘dream cast.’ I highly recommend it!

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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Shake Loose plays from January 28  – March 6, 2016 at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in North Old Town Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-9044, or purchase them online.

Note: MetroStage is offering $15 off all performances the first two weeks of Shake Loose: from January 29-February 7, 2016. Patrons should call the theatre at (703) 548-9044 with CODE:  “Blues, Moods, Icons.” There is a free parking lot and dining nearby MetroStage. The theatre is handicap accessible.

LINKS:
‘Shaking It Loose With Tom Jones’ at MetroStage by Debbie Minter Jackson.

In the Moment: ‘An Interview With the Creative Team of MetroStage’s ‘Shake Looseby David Siegel.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif