Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Cool Papa's Party
Also see Susan's review of The Heavens Are Hung in Black
The talented Jahi Kearse hardly ever leaves the stage as Willie Rose Jr., the singer-dancer known as "Cool Papa," surrounded by an ensemble of three women and three men. Jones' script follows Cool Papa from his childhood in the home of a strong grandmother (Roz White) to his early career in vaudeville and a later trio act with his father (Gary E. Vincent, going on for William Hubbard) and uncle (Anthony Manough); his World War II experiences in Paris; his friendship with a mob-connected crooner here called Johnnie Domingo (Ben Horen), who says things like "Dig and be dug in return"; his life-threatening car accident; his controversial romances with white women (all played by Gia Mora); his flirtations with politics in the 1960s and '70s; and his search for identity and a place in the world.
The problem is that, while many of the pieces of the show are interesting, they don't really add up, and the score by Jones and William Knowles consists more of background-type music than memorable individual songs. Another problem is that this kind of show has been done before and better: Cool Papa's discovery of bohemian life in Europe owes a lot to Passing Strange, a similar story of an African-American man in search of new perspectives, which appeared on Broadway last season.
Hines keeps the performers in fairly constant motion, ranging from old-school tap and shuffle steps to Las Vegas-style chorus lines. The scenic design by Carl Gudenius conveys a succession of scenes with economy, but many of Kristina Lucka's costumes are less than flattering.