Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Cotton Club Cabaret
West Coast Black Theatre Troupe

Also see Bill's reviews of The Customer is Always Right and I Hate Hamlet


Marta McKinnon, Tarra Conner jones, Ariel Blue
Big doings this summer at West Coast Black Theatre Troupe—a revival of their 2013 hit Soul Crooners II with an extended engagement in Tampa and performances at National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where WBTT founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs will be honored with the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award. Kudos on this prestigious award to one of Sarasota's finest men.

For their regular summer production, West Coast Black Theatre Troupe has reached way back into their history and are reviving The Cotton Club Cabaret, which was their very first production in 1999. Developed by Nate Jacobs, this revue gives modern audiences a look at a venerable theatrical institution, Harlem's famed Cotton Club, home at one time or another to most of the greatest black entertainers ever, including Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway's bands, Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Ethel Waters, Adelaide Hall, Lena Horne (in the chorus at first), and countless others. Harold Arlen wrote for the various editions of The Cotton Club review, including such great songs as "Stormy Weather" and "I Got a Right to Sing the Blues." During the show, the audience learns that blacks were the entertainers, whites the audience, and gangsters the owners. Most of the historical information about The Cotton Club is correct; however, a salute to Billie Holiday is out of place as she had no professional connection to the venue, nor did Chic Webb who is saluted in the song "Vote for Mr. Rhythm."

As usual, the glory of the show is the pool of enormous talent on WBTT's stage. Tarra Conner jones, Ariel Blue, and Marta McKinnon are the featured ladies, while Earley Dean and Charles Westley Lattimore, Jr. are the staring men, with an assist by Shelton Brown. Terrell Alexander, Chakara Rose, and Joshua Thompson add depth to the production as dancers and occasional back-up vocalists. Ms. jones rocks the house with "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer" and "Vote for Mr. Rhythm," and in duet with Mr. Lattimore, "I Don't Dig You Jack."

Ms. McKinnon, who needs to step out from behind the concession stand more than once a year, is delightfully playful in "Keeping Out of Mischief Now" and with Mr. Brown in "I'm Just Wild About Harry." Ariel Blue steps center stage for "Goody, Goody" and "Bring It on Home to Me." All three featured men shine in "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," and all five men are sensational in "Satin Doll," part of an act one tribute to Duke Ellington. Also part of this tribute is "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" performed by Earley and Charles. Earley Dean's channeling Cab Calloway in "Minnie the Moocher" is a sensational act one finale. Act two opens with Tarra, Ariel and Marta in "Sing, Sing, Sing" and also contains "Am I Blue" presented by the entire ensemble." "How I Got Over" is the explosive finale, with the entire company. Part of what I love about this company is watching performers grow. At a talk back after the show I learned that Terrell Alexander is 14 years old, while Joshua Thompson is 17. If their accomplishments don't give hope for the future I don't know what will.

LaTerry Butler kept the excitement up as music director/arranger and pianist, with the help of Willie Thompson on guitar, Donald Watts on percussion and Tony Benade on reeds/woodwinds.

WBTT continues its solid production values, eye-catching clothing by Cristy Owen and Mydra McKinnon, beautiful scenic design by Mark and Donna Buckalter, and lovely lighting by Nick Jones.

Every production at WBTT is a can't miss affair, and The Cotton Club Cabaret is no exception.

The Cotton Club Cabaret, presented by West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, through August 9, 2015, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.

Cast: (in alphabetical order)
Terrell Alexander
Ariel Blue
Shelton Brown
Tarra Conner jones*
Earley Dean
Charles Westley Lattimore Jr.*
Marta McKinnon
Chakara Rosa
Joshua Thompson
*=Member of Actor's Equity Association

Created, Adapted and Directed by Nate Jacobs
Choreographed by Donald Frison
Musical Direction by LaTerry Butler
Scenic Design by Mark and Donna Buckalter
Costume Design by Cristy Owen and Mydra McKinnon
Lighting Design by Nick Jones
Property Master: Annette Breazeale
Production Manager: James E. Dodge II
Production Stage Manager: Juanita Munford*


Photo: Don Daly Photo.com

--William S. Oser


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