Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - November 3, 2013
After Midnight Conceived by Jack Viertel. Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle. Music supervisor/additional arranger/conductor Daryl Waters. Selected text by Langston Hughes. Scenic design by John Lee Beatty. Costume design by Isabel Toledo. Lighting design by Howell Binkley. Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Hair design by Charles G. LaPointe. Cast: Special guest star Fantasia Barrino, featuring Dulé Hill, with Adriane Lenox, Karine Plantadit, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Julius “iGlide” Chisolm, Virgil “Lil’o” Gadson, Jared Grimes, Marija Abney, Phillip Attmore, Everett Bradley, Christopher Broughton, Taeler Elyse Cyrus, C.K. Edwards, Carmen Ruby Floyd, Danielle Berbert, Bahiyah Hibah, Rosena M. Hill Jackson, David Jennings, Monroe Kent III, Erin N. Moore, Cedric Neal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Justin Prescott, T. Oliver Reid, Desmond Richardson, Allysa Shorte, Monique Smith, Daniel J.Watts, Kurt Bacher, Art Baron, Adam Birnbaum, Dan Block, James Burton III, James Chirillo, Andy Farber, Alvester Garnett, Gregory Gisbert, Wayne Goodman, Mark Gross, Bruce Harris, Alphonso Horne, Godwin Louis, Jennifer Vincent, James Zollar.
The true headliners of the evening — at least as far as I’m concerned — are the Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars, who under the artistic direction of Wynton Marsalis and the conducting of Daryl Waters, turn out the wildest woodwinds and the brashest brass this side of the 1930s. The group onstage may not be any bigger (sigh) than the larger (sigh) groups you’ll find in most Broadway pits these days (sigh), but as far as sheer, spine-tingling energy and period precision, they’re unmatched: Whether they’re playing backup or taking center stage themselves, they weave a miraculous musical texture that reminds you what dance music can, should, and even must be.
“Happy as the Day Is Long,” by Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen, is transformed into a charmingly masculine tap duet for Daniel J. Watts and Phillip Attmore. In “Peckin’,” those men are joined by Christopher Broughton, C.K. Edwards, and Desmond Richardson in an elegant “close-harmony” quintet (punctuated by Everett Bradley). Carmen Ruby Floyd, on the other hand, stands stock still center stage to deliver the haunting and lyric-free “Creole Love Call”; Karine Plantadit and Jared Grimes forego words in “Black and Tan Fantasy” and the rollicking “Tap Mathematician,” respectively. In each of these cases and more, you’re enveloped in stunning artistry that really does summon a place and attitude that don’t exist any more than does their late-20s/early-30s home.
The biggest exceptions occur when every barrier is broken down between stage and audience. This most notably happens with Adriane Lenox, who has never been better in a musical than she is here: With “Women Be Wise” and “Go Back to Where You Stayed Last Night” she assumes full control over the audience, imbuing every syllable with a sly wink and a saucy grin that command your undivided intention. In “Hottentot,” Julius “iGlide” Chisolm and Virgil “Lil’ O” Gadsen rip up the joint with a stellar slinky-meets-strutting dance-off. And though I’m not sure that “special guest star” Fantasia Barrino screams 1930s, her way with a song is undisputed, and in “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Stormy Weather,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and especially “Zaz Zuh Zaz” she demonstrates that she’s every bit as able to connect with an audience in this context as she was in her explosive debut in The Color Purple six years ago.