Review: 'Glee' star joins Harlem jazz in new revue
This theater image released by Helene Davis Public Relations shows Amber Riley during a performance in "Cotton Club Parade," running through Nov. 18, at New York City Center. (AP Photo/Helene Davis Public Relations, Joan Marcus)
NEW YORK (AP) — It sounds blunt enough, that old classic by Sippie Wallace: "Women be wise, keep your mouth shut! Don't advertise your man."
But apparently Adriane Lenox doesn't think the lyrics are quite, well, forceful enough, and so she naughtily adds a full-fledged profanity into her rendition.
We can't elaborate here, of course, but it gets a huge laugh, and Lenox's boozy, slaphappy performance is one of the delights — along with the sublime tap dancing of Jared Grimes — of "Cotton Club Parade," a joyous musical revue celebrating Duke Ellington's years at the famous Harlem nightclub in the late '20s and early '30s.
But move fast: This production at New York City Center, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle with musical direction by the great Wynton Marsalis, is only in town for seven performances, through Sunday.
"Cotton Club Parade," which imagines an Ellington-era variety show, filled with famous jazz and swing numbers of the time, had a brief appearance a year ago at City Center. This go-around, there are some key new cast members, most notably — from a pop-culture standpoint, that is — Amber Riley. For those non-gleeks out there, that would be Mercedes from "Glee."
"She sounds different when she's not lip-syncing!" noted an 11-year-old companion at Wednesday's night's show, well versed in all things "Glee." Sure enough, Mercedes — er, Riley — does sound different, her voice somewhat sweeter and softer, and less brassy, than on TV.
The young actress, new to the stage, has a pleasing presence which solidifies as she travels through her three numbers. Most successful — and confident — is her rendition of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," aided by dancers Christopher Broughton and C.K. Edwards.
Serving as sort of an emcee is the charismatic Joshua Henry, also new this time, who's been a familiar face on Broadway in the last few years with "The Scottsboro Boys," ''The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess," ''American Idiot" and "In the Heights." Among the dancers, a standout is Karine Plantadit, a dancer familiar from Twyla Tharp shows, among whose many tasks is to emerge dancing from a coffin — carried aloft by mourners.
For sheer wow factor, though, it's hard to top the wonderful Grimes, whose jumping splits and other feats in tap shoes, especially in "Tap Mathematician," are matched only by the heavenly expressions on his face — the term "infectious grin" doesn't begin to cover it.
After a wonderful, climactic dance finale — appropriately called "Cotton Club Stomp" — the entire cast engages in a round of "Freeze and Melt," something that would be great fun, though hardly this stylish, at any dance party.
Then the cast leaves, and we're left with one final number from the crack orchestra, the Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars, under the direction of Daryl Waters. Hearing the masterful ensemble knock out one more tune, "Rockin' in Rhythm," the other night, it was hard not to imagine hopping onstage with them, ordering a martini, and settling in for a long evening.