After Midnight, the latest offering in Signature Theatre’s virtual season, brings tears and smiles and lots of foot tapping as you watch the musical revue from the comfort of your home, perhaps in your pajamas after midnight.
Now streaming through early August, the vaudeville-like show conjures up memories of dancing in night clubs up and down the East Coast in the late ’50s. Philadelphia’s Latin Casino presented the big stars like Ella and Ray Charles, while the Sunshine Girls danced on a postage-stamp-sized stage at nearby Uncle Milty’s to big band music led by Cab Calloway.
Indeed, all these clubs offered the same energy, entertainment, and memories as does the big band musical After Midnight, set in Harlem, a nod to the Cotton Club with torch singers and romantic crooners.
The show features a cast of 12, headlined by Christopher Jackson, Nova Y. Payton, and Mark G. Meadows, who keeps things lively with his band of seven musicians. It’s hard to resist humming along to “Sunny Side of the Street” or jumping up to join the cast in a jitterbug, especially in the finale where you just can’t keep seated.
As with any music revue, questions of acting and script becomes irrelevant. The pertinent questions are: How good was the dancing? How good was the singing? How good were the songs? The short answer is: a highpoint in all three, a contagious vitality at all times.
The highest point of all was the tap dancing by Jodeci Milhouse, Phillip Attmore, and DeWitt Fleming Jr., who steal the show with their terrific tap turns, fast breaks, buck ’n’ wing, and the smooth soft shoe style à la Gregory Hines.
When the trio taps, their body motion was sometimes minimal, but the sounds emanating from their feet were like castanets in the hands of an expert Spanish dancer. It was the combination of machine gun clicks and apparent ease that was so fascinating to watch.
Right up there with the dancing is the music by Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Dorothy Fields, plus poems of Langston Hughes, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance and one of the earliest innovators of the literary art form called “jazz poetry.”
Kudos to song-and-dance star Christopher Jackson for his intelligent interpretation of the poems and his cool look in that zoot suit with the hanging watch chain. Dede Ayite created the spot-on costumes, great looking and able to move in.
The vocalists, too, deserve praise for singing more than two dozen tunes backed by a great horn section. The best female singer in the bunch? Hard to imagine Nova Y. Payton could be topped with her belting rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything Love.”
Still, Jennie Harney-Fleming sings an Ella-like “Creole Love Call,” and Shayla S. Simmons, decked out in silk and mink, delivers a “I’ve got your number, so don’t mess with me” rendition of “Go Back to Where You Stayed Last Night.”
The guys, too, earn their accolades for both singing and dancing. Jackson carries off the steamy double entendre blues of “Ain’t It the Truth.” He’s backed by a quartet and some trombone magic. At times I felt I was at a church revival with the bellowing baritone voices shuddering through Signature Theatre with religious ecstasy.
It’s tough to pinpoint an exact classification of Director/Choreographer Jared Grimes’s nonstop physical movement — a shoulder roll here, a slap on the thigh there, and enough hip shaking to have worn out Elvis Presley in his prime. Did we mention those acrobatic trips that pop out of nowhere?
Some critics may suggest After Midnight works better in person on a proscenium stage. For me, though, I plan to watch this show over and over again. The filming, editing, lighting were all superb — and thanks for the memories.
Running Time: Almost 100 minutes, with no intermission
Conceived by Jack Viertel
Featuring the poetry of Langston Hughes
With songs by Harold Arlen, Cab Calloway, Harry Carney, Sidney Easton, Duke Ellington, Dorothy Fields, E.Y. Harburg, Johnny Hodges, Harry James, Ted Koehler, Jimmy McHugh, Bubber Miley, Irving Mills, Henry Nemo, Ben Pollack, Sippie Wallace, Ethel Waters, and Harry A. White
Directed & Choreographed by Jared Grimes
Music Directed by Mark G. Meadows