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If you love jazz, and even if you only like jazz, and maybe even if you’re not sure about jazz, you’ll have a terrific time at Musicalfare’s “Sophisticated Ladies.” You’ll be tapping your feet and dancing in your seat during this revue of Duke Ellington’s music, transported to 1928 when Duke Ellington and the Cotton Club Band reigned supreme in Harlem.
Where to begin? Everything about this production shines. The music is the bedrock and the musicians on stage tore it up. The great George Caldwell (Music Director) on piano, Rodney Harper on drums (he’s a man who knows how to have a good time), Bobby Militello on reeds (could we be this lucky?), Tim Clarke on trumpet (wah-wah), Dave Siegfried on bass, and John Hasselback on trombone did the Duke proud. Buffalo is blessed to have musicians of such high quality, and to have them all on one stage playing some of the greatest jazz music of all time is a gift, indeed.
The direction and choreography by John Fredo is spot on. The movement of the dancers and singers, and the dance routines are sultry and sexy, lighthearted and comedic. He uses the Cotton Club set by Chris Schenk to great advantage. Elegant gold curtains frame two staircases with the band in the center on two levels with Art Deco railings. Two tall, narrow screens on either side of the band showcase ever-changing Deco designs, along with pictures of Ellington, the Cotton Club, Harlem, and some of the female vocalists who sang with the band.
The stellar cast of seven sing and dance their way through 29 numbers! Only a few can be highlighted here--you really need to see this show to appreciate the energy it exudes. Cecelia Barron, who my grandmother would refer to as being only as "big as a minute", commands the stage with her dancing. During The Mooch number with London Lee, her sexy lady is a leopard, purring and hissing her way around him until she subdues him completely. In Take the A Train, Annette Christian, in her bright red skirt, explains to us just how to get to Harlem, and we really want to go there with her. She scats with Dudney Joseph, Jr. and Militello’s saxophone and it is a blast. Katy Miner belts it out in Hit Me With A Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce, and is great as the mysterious Satin Doll with Ben Michael Moran who begs her to Just Squeeze Me. He is delightful in Love You Madly/Perdido, along with Joseph, Jr., pushing Zoe Scruggs around the stage on a piano. She smiles and sings with a glint in her eye. I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good/Mood Indigo with Christian, Scruggs, and Miner on different areas of the stage in blue light, is soulful and sad as they come together center at the end.
Finally, the costumes by Kari Drozd are delicious. Colorful--bright reds, yellows, greens. And that’s just the men’s big silk suits. The women are in sequins and feathers and even polkadots. Each number has its own beautiful costumes. From the farmer to the sophisticate, they’re all gorgeous. Katy Miner’s Deco-patterned sequined gown in the finale was a standout.
There may have been one or two minor Opening Night issues, but they’re likely all taken care of by now, so why even go into them? My friend and I loved it from the first note to the last. And we stayed until that very last note was played after the cast left the stage to a standing ovation.
So, do yourself a favor and go to Musicalfare for a night of splendid entertainment. Best of all, it’s not hard to get there. You can Take the A Train. That’s the fastest way.
Thu Feb 2nd → Sun Mar 5th
Days: Sun, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat
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