Cotton Club Parade

NY City Center, NYC - November 2011

Review by John Kenrick

There was a whole lotta shoutin' going as audiences hailed Cotton Club Parade, an exciting tribute to the legendary Harlem club where Duke Ellington once shared the spotlight with the Nicholas Brothers, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and a young Lena Horne. City Center Encores teamed with Jazz at Lincoln Center to bring some of Broadway's finest together with a stellar lineup of instrumentalists, resulting in glorious period-perfect entertainment.

Wynton Marsalis (already a musical treasure in his own right) and his amazing Jazz at Lincoln Center ensemble were center stage for the entire 90 minute celebration -- a perfect approach, since the music was the true star of this production. From familiar numbers like "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" to rarities like "East St. Louis Toodle-oo," the sounds of a long-lost era were as alive and thrilling as ever, giving delighted listeners no choice but to cheer and stomp and roar their approval.

Director Warren Carlyle laid out a deftly paced and brilliantly modulated program, wisely stressing the talents of the performers and keeping physical elements to a refreshingly tasteful minimum. A bench or lamppost here, a short staircase there, reserving a handsome cascade of nightclub drapes and chandeliers for the final few numbers. Carlyle's fine choreography combined classic tap with hints of contemporary street dancing, showcasing some fine ensemble work (ah, the simple genius accomplished with a few balloons in "I've Got the World on a String") and allowing soloists of both sexes to take dazzling turns. The poetry of Langston Hughes provided the only spoken sequences, too little to be called a narrative but enough to enrich the proceedings.

While the entire ensemble made solid contributions, special praise goes to Adriane Lenox for delicious renditions of "Women Be Wise" and "Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night," to Alexandria "Brinae Ali" Bradley for some dazzling tap, and to every member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

I hope this is not the last the world will see of Cotton Club Parade. With a bit more material and a tad of reshaping, it could easily be the highlight of any Broadway season. This kind of sheer pleasure is never in sufficient supply.

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