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Review Roundup: ‘After Midnight’

After Midnight, the new revue celebrating the tenure of Duke Ellington as bandleader at the legendary Cotton Club, opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Nov. 3. The plotless show is derived from Cotton Club Parade, a series of concerts presented by Jazz at Lincon Center and Encores! in 2011 and 2012. Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle and conceived by Jack Viertel, the show features the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars orchestra, hand-picked by producer Wynton Marsalis. American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino fills the first in a series of “special guest star” spots. K.D. Lang, Toni Braxton and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds are scheduled to take over that slot later in the run. Also starring are Dulé Hill (The West Wing, Psych) as the host of the evening, Tony winner Adriane Lenox (Doubt), Karine Plantadit (Come Fly with Me), Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Julius “iGlide” Chisolm, Virgil “Lil’O” Gadson, and Jared Grimes. Has After Midnight got that swing? Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

Dule Hill and Fantasia Barrino in After Midnight (Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Dule Hill and Fantasia Barrino at the opening night curtain call for ‘After Midnight’ (Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Charles Isherwood, New York Times
After Midnight does not make much of an attempt to impart any of the Cotton Club history. As the evening’s nominal host, Mr. Hill sprinkles the evening with a few snippets of Langston Hughes’s poetry, but it’s incidental. Instead the focus remains squarely on music and its interpretation, by those amazing musicians, under the snappy baton of the conductor Daryl Waters, and the performers who sing, slide, scat, cartwheel and generally raise a ruckus in front of them.”

Elisabeth Vincantelli, New York Post
“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. So we effortlessly move from ­Alvin Ailey alums Karine Plantadit and Desmond Richardson (late of Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away and Movin’ Out, respectively) to hip-hop master Virgil “Lil’ O” Gadson, who engages in a spirited battle with the rubber-limbed Julius ­“iGlide” Chisolm. Of course, there’s plenty of tap, too. And that, like Duke Ellington’s music, never gets old.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“The plotless classic-jazz revue has been conceived by Jack Viertel and staged by director/choreographer Warren Carlyle with more personality than consistent polish. Although the big cast overflows with talent, individuality and winning attitude, one senses a battle between a desire for slickness and an endearing, clubby casualness. When that push for slickness goes into overdrive, the ensemble can feel ragged.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, the high-energy show never lags, making for an excellently paced 90 minutes. It makes no attempt to make a statement other than just to celebrate some remarkable performers…. It’s far from Harlem, but the Broadway venue seems intimate. You can almost taste the martini going down as you watch a top-notch revue.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“The indisputable scene-stealer of After Midnight, however, is the marvelous Adriane Lenox, a Tony-winner for Doubt. Sly, sexy humor ripples through this entire show, but nowhere more so than in Lenox’s two numbers. …Gulping hooch and shaking her bony limbs like an inveterate juke-joint floozy, Lenox alone makes this a party you don’t want to miss. It’s jazz heaven.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“With more than two dozen jazz compositions on the bill—many by Ellington, but with composers like Harold Arlen and Jimmy McHugh well represented—you can bet there’s a lot of singing in this show.  Fantasia is clearly the star of this revue, but Carmen Ruby Floyd, Rosena M. Hill Jackson and Bryonha Marie Parham, who keep showing up in funny, flirtatious incarnations of backup singers, are the show’s backbone.”

Elysa Garnder, USA Today
“[W]hile the show has a distinct air of social and cultural consciousness, there is no hagiographical account of an artist’s life, no ludicrous plot tossed off to accommodate a catalog of tunes, as a jukebox musical might offer. Instead, you get 90 minutes of honest, vital entertainment, delivered with enough breezy wit to mitigate the flashes of pomp.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“There are showstoppers aplenty in the ebullient new musical revue After Midnight, a celebration of classic jazz and swing numbers with some of the most astounding and spirited choreography currently on Broadway.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“At one late moment, Hill mentions ‘a dream deferred,’ which is, it should be needless to say, a reference to the Hughes poem from which Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sunis derived. But what’s on display here is nothing like a dream realized. It’s a dream realized. Why go on about any of this when the wise thing to do is to advise readers they really ought to stop reading and secure those precious seats.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“As staged by Warren Carlyle, After Midnight brings lively and snazzy period entertainment to Broadway with phenomenal sound, effervescent movement and a joyous spirit.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Numbers have been assembled with loving care and smarts by music director Wynton Marsalis. 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. But the silky moves of Julius (iGlide) Chisolm and Virgil (Lil’ O) Gadson—alums of So You Think You Can Dance— are especially fun and memorable.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“Devised by producer Jack Viertel and road-tested at City Center as Cotton Club Parade, the program packs in more than two dozen swinging numbers—many of them classics by Duke Ellington and other legends of the Harlem Renaissance. It’s a jazz phantasmagoria that shifts from head-spinning tap (by the charming trio of Daniel J. Watts, Phillip Attmore and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards) to silken crooning by MC Dulé Hill and tender standards (“Stormy Weather” and others) by the divinely bruised Fantasia Barrino.”

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