A Proficient Production of
The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is currently presenting the toe-tapping musical revue written by Eubie Blake with some lyrics by Noble Sissle. This production is an off shoot of the Broadway revue Eubie, which ran for 438 performances at the Ambassador Theatre. I saw the fast-paced, syncopated revue starring the Hines Brothers, Gregory and Maurice, during the winter of 1979 and was impressed by the caliber of Eubie's music. Director Stanley E. Williams has kept most of the original intact, with only a few exceptions. The show boasts some very talented singers who do justice to this African American musical pioneer.
Eubie's vigorous cast handles the vibrant music of Eubie Blake very well. The "rinky tink" five-piece orchestra sits on the right side of the stage, giving the feeling of a small orchestra from the early part of the 20th century. It has that certain tinny feeling that can be hard on the ear if you are not used to that type of sound.
Many of the opening songs are from Eubie and Sissle's 1921 Broadway musical Shuffle Along, which was the first all-black musical to become a box office hit; the song "I'm Just Wild about Harry" became a standard. The show also broke down barriers between the races at the time. It was the first time a white audience had seen a serious love affair between two black characters. Previously, black and white musicals handled these affairs on a low comedy vein.
Eubie hs many highlights, including a dynamic, rockin' gospel number, "Roll Jordan," with lead singer Clare McDaniel belting out the lyrics and the audience getting into the groove of the hand clapping number. It brings down the house. Michael Leroy Brown is excellent in "Low Down Blues" and this segues into Anise Ritchie singing the soulful "Gee I Wish I Had Someone to Love." They then combine the songs into a wonderful duet. The stately and captivating Andrea Brembry is sublime in the song that broke down boundaries of "serious black love," "I'm Craving That Kind of Love."
Eubie also boasts some of the comedy songs of the composer with a vignette scene that takes place in a courtroom straight out of burlesque with Pjay Johnson belting out "If You've Never Been Vamped by a Brownskin, You've Never Been Vamped at All." Rotund Woody Clark has some great moves in his song, "I'm A Great Big Baby". Andrea and Luther also camp it up on "My Handyman Ain't Handy Anymore." The show ends on two songs that Blake popularized. Pjay has good singing chops for "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" while Clara does a splendidly silken version of "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries." The whole cast sings the melodic "Goodnight Angeline" form Eubie's 1919 musical followed by the upbeat "I'm Just Wild About Eubie" (instead of Harry).
This production could be stronger, considering the talent onstage. There are dead spots between numbers and there is no smoothness going from one song to another. This prevents an even flow and there is very little set up for each number. Director Stanley E. Williams and choreographer Danny Duncan do not give the singers much leeway in which to make the songs more presentable. This should be a much more "zinger" production, since Eubie Blake's melodies were strictly Tin Pan Alley tradition songs with a dash of ragtime and blues.
Eubie plays at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter Street, (at Mason) in the Union Square District of San Francisco, through May 16. For tickets call 415-474-8800 or purchase online at www.ticketweb.com. Visit their website at www.lhtsf.org. The company will be announcing their new 2004-2005 line up soon.