Through October 13|
LADIES SWING THE BLUES Paul Robeson Theatre/African American Cultural Center
The Paul Robeson Theatre has a long history of truly strong musical productions.
It does well with straight plays, also.
But, music can bring in the crowds.
The PRT is opening this season with a new musical, “Ladies Swing the Blues,” with book and lyrics from Thomas W. Jones II and music from William A. Knowles.
Jones is director and choreographer for this production, ensuring there is no clash between creators and workers as to what’s intended.
To me, the biggest problem is the decision to build the show around the druggie and dying Charlie “Bird” Parker (John Campfield).
He staggers through many of the scenes of the show, drunk or drugged and occasionally performing.
Another case of a great musician who died way, way too young, March 12, 1955.
The premise is a memorial concert the day after his death, featuring four female musicians, greats of the day and of musical history and Parker friends, Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan (Latosha Jennings), Billie Holiday (Lily Jones), Ella Fitzgerald (Brittany M. Rumph) and Kacy Lynn Carbone (Peggy Lee).
All five were stalwarts of the day when West 52nd Street in Manhattan was the center of the jazz world, when people like Parker were creating modern jazz, far from the music which headed north from Storyville to the great cities.
To a great extent, what Jones does is let the singers sing, whether Parker with songs like “Anyplace I hang My Hat” or “Angel Eyes” to the ladies with “Melody,” “Kansas City” or he classic “Fever” and sometimes all of them, with numbers like “Rhythm is Our Business” “Dead Clock on The Wall.”
Mostly, the time of jazz has passed, as the audience has moved past the world of music Parker helped create and that row of night clubs on West 52nd is now something for those picture collections of Manhattan.
Well, it’s still here because how could you tell the story of American music and the people, particularly African-Americans, who created our sounds without “Round Midnight,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” “Kansas City” or “Fever.”
And, how could you tell that musical story without the five people in this cast.
That’s why these strong performances are so essential to this show, Rumph with “Round Midnight,” Jennings with “Sometimes I’m Happy,” Carbone with “Lullaby of Birdland” and Jones with “Billie’s Blues.”
There’s also Campfield, with “Anyplace I Hang My Hat.”
Musical director Frazier Thomas Smith and his band really make it all work.
The beautifully sung music deserves to be brought out and performed in shows like “Ladies Swing the Blues.”
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