One complaint I get regularly about musical productions is, "Why don't they produce shows with songs an audience can come out humming?"
Well, that's no problem with this brassy, sassy, classy musical.There are 31 (count 'em - 31!) tunes in this vibrant, non-stop tribute to the legendary Fats Waller. Or, to paraphrase the motto of a chain of ice cream emporiums, you'll get "thirty-wonderful" songs (32 if you count the "Ain't Misbehavin' " reprise at the finale) - and they range from toe-tappers and knee-slappers to soulful blues and torch songs.
From hot jazz to cool dudes, it's unlikely Salt Lake City has seen the likes of this show before, or ever will again.
One thing this show most definitely has is Patti D'Beck's indelible imprint stamped all over it. It MOVES! Everything just clicks. The choreography, the costumes, the scenery (recreating a wonderful art deco Harlem nightclub sometime during the 1930s), the lighting, the band - but most of all - the exceptionally talented ensemble.
This is not a "star" vehicle. One-third of the score - either Fats Waller compositions or songs he was closely identified with - are presented by "the company."
And it's very good company, indeed - Michelle Crenshaw, Doug Eskew, Reena Phillips, David Jennings, Mone Walton and pianist Clem Moorman.
The singers are all capable of stopping the show with their individual solo efforts (and Doug Eskew did at one point during "Honeysuckle Rose," when he held one note for an unbearably long time).
Walton was terrific in the World War I ditty, "When the Nylons Boom Again" ("cotton is monotonous to mend," she lamented, and the only way to keep "affection fresh. . .get some mesh for your flesh").
Crenshaw (in the role for which Nell Carter copped a Tony Award) entices us to do our bit for the war effort by earning "Cash for Your Trash."
Some of the songs' body language may be a little more like. . . bawdy language, and some of the more conservative patrons might quibble over David Jennings' "The Viper's Drag" (which, taken in context, is more akin to the campy "Reefer Madness" than something extolling the excitement of getting high).
But, by and large, the highlights in this show come thick and fast - just like the 30-plus Waller hits: Mone Walton's sultry "Squeeze Me," David Jennings and Reena Phillips' nimble-footed dancing, Michelle Crenshaw's torchy "Mean to Me," the ensemble's show-stopping "The Joint Is Jumpin'," "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie"; Doug and David teaming up for "The Ladies Who Sing With the Band" ("selling vocals to those yokels"), and, of course, the title song.
George Maxwell's set design (when the performers aren't moving, Clem Moorman's piano itself is, gliding back and forth under arches that remind us of Radio City Music Hall), Peter L. Willardson's lighting (soft and moody or bright and brilliant) and David C. Paulin's costumes (with just the right touch of '30s gaudiness) are all right on the money.
"I'm gonna write words oh so sweet, they're gonna knock me off these size 12 feet," Eskew sings in "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter."
Well, I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a review of this sensational show - and I guarantee you'll be knocked off YOUR feet by this energetic revue.
So, if you downtown swells at the Waldorf want to get out and really see the town - then head for Harlem.
Go slumming. . .and come out humming.