Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Nate Jacobs' 50s Jukebox Revue
Nate Jacobs likes to add a bit of story to go with his musical shows. Here he offers the story of a collection of black recording artists traveling as part of a package tour. The company offers two dueling divas and two front line men with the other four women and three men performing as back-up groups, but they also get solo opportunities. Ariel Blue as Mama Sass and Kristal Walker as Lula McKay are the dueling divas. Kristal has one of her strongest moments early in the show with Ruth Brown's "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin" while Ariel gets the Big Mama Thornton version of "Hound Dog" and later another Ruth Brown number "Too Many Men." Both give real star performances. Michael Mendez as Bobby Ray continues his ascent from valuable featured player to a performer I always look forward to seeing with his renditions of Sam Cook's "You Send Me" and the doo wop version of "I Only Have Eyes for You." The biggest personality belongs to Gordon R. Gregory as the big sassy male, Big Hal. He shines every time he takes center stage but especially so in "All Shook Up" and leading an audience participation number "Lipstick, Powder and Paint." He could wipe the stage clean of all the rest of the cast if everyone else weren't so good. One of my favorites, Tsadok Porter, shines in "Goody Goody" (ok I adore this song, period), 17 year old Alyssa White playing 16 year old Sherry Love blasts "Good Rocking Daddy" into orbit, and Davronette Henson as Mayella Brown leads "The Mashed Potato." All three are also outstanding in group numbers. Davronette was my favorite discovery, what a fabulous voice!
Emmanuel Avraham plays the role of TJ Brown, the MC of the show, an acting part. Charles Manning as Benny Burrows, Will Little as Jimmy and Henry Washington as Teddy Turner comprise the Men's ensemble. Charles Manning shines in "The Great Pretender," Henry Washington solos on "Lucille," "Reet Petite" and others, while Will Little is featured in several dance breaks partnering real life partner Dhakeria Cunningham, who also is responsible for the lively, crisp choreography. Her work is one of many highlights of this endeavor.
James (Jay) Dodge II leads the five-piece band from his position on bass. His work has been one of the glories of WBTT in the past few years. This company often produces music heavy productions which would quickly become listless without music direction as lively as Mr. Dodge's.
This year WBTT has added a week of performances for each of its four productions, more performances, more money available and it shows. The elaborate setting by Michael Newton-Brown is a big step forward from previous productions as are the costumes by Cristy Newton-Brown. As the troop moves from location to location, there are new jackets and ties for the men and at least new accessories for the women.
50s Jukebox Revue represents a whole new level of excellence for WBTT, the perky company that proves over and over that they can and will deliver the goods.
Nate Jacobs' 50s Jukebox Revue presented by WBTT Theater, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. Through December 16, 2012. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org.
Written and Directed by Nate Jacobs