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Sophisticated Ladies

a Musical Revue
CATEGORY :
by Music by Duke Ellington

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 2707

SHOWING : January 16, 2008 - February 10, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Spend an evening in the Cotton Club, as Duke Ellington's music takes us to a bygone era of flappers and fun.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Retrospective
by Dedalus
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
4.0
In retrospect, it may be a pointless effort to write of a show after it has closed. Having failed in my efforts to brave the January Snow to catch opening night (the height of sophistication is, I suppose, being “All Tuxed up with No Place to Go”), I succeeded in braving the re-routed traffic patterns and stuffed-to-the-gills parking garages to catch the closing. But, since I’m a Duke Ellington fan from way back, this retrospective is worth the effort.

As was the Retrospective on display at the Alliance!

Ostensibly a recreation of a Cotton Club revue from Duke Ellington’s reign as house band (1927-1931), “Sophisticated Ladies” gave us eight talented performers playing eight talented performers doing over twenty-five of Duke Ellington’s “Greatest Hits.” Each had a moment to shine – DeWitt Fleming Jr.’s outstanding tap solo (billed as a “Tribute to Gregory Hines,” who was featured in the original Broadway production of this show), Tracee Beazer’s alluring “Hit me with a Hot Note and Watch me Bounce,” Laurie Williamson’s smoky Ethel Waters tribute “Solitude,” Bryan Terrell Clark’s “Something to Live For,” and so many more. The entire company pulled together for foot-stomping ensemble pieces such as “Cottontail,” "Rockin’ Rhythm,” and two very different takes on “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

If this revue made the racist attitudes of the time (Cotton Club insistence on “Jungle Numbers,” for example) seem like a politically incorrect smack in the face of modern sensibilities, I suspect it was no less so for the performers at the time who had to do them. If the whiz-bang flash of the production and design seem a little too 21st -Century for the period, I suspect the original whiz-bang flash would fall pretty flat to our computer-jaded expectations. And, if the show was longer than the original revues would ever consider, I suspect there are many (like me) who could listen to Ellington’s compositions all night – Like the creators of this show, I just can’t “Let a Song Go” if it’s by Ellington.

I few years ago, I made the observation that a nice standard for “Revue” shows with a plot forced around a particular composer’s song-ography would be this – does the “plot” make the evening better than a straight concert of the material? In this case, the concept IS the material – there is no plot, only a “recreation” of a particular time and place. Ironically, a few years after “Sophisticated Ladies,” an off-Broadway musical called “Play On!” layered the plot of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” over these same songs and location and era. It’s one of my all-time favorites, doing justice to Ellington, Shakespeare, and the “Cotton Club” era. “Sophisticated Ladies” is no less successful, and proves that good music will win out when treated with talent and respect.

Any comments about this show will have to be in retrospect, now, since the production had folded its tents and taken its “Caravan” into memory. In my opinion, it’s a memory and a music to be cherished. I “Loved it Madly.” But it has checked out, “Goombye!” Grieve if you missed it.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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