By Philip Dorian
“After Midnight” is not holiday-themed, but a more entertaining seasonal pick-me-up is hard to imagine. The Broadway re-creation of Harlem’s famed Cotton Club in the 1930s is pure exhilaration from its stirring start to its fabulous finish.
The blissfully upbeat show begins with “Daybreak Express,” a visual as well as musical treasure, and ends 90 minutes later with its sensational dancers alternating statue-like postures with syncopated moves to the aptly named “Freeze and Melt.” Then come curtain calls and a well-deserved standing-O.
But wait: The show ain’t over yet. The star of “After Midnight” has one more number. That star is the onstage band, 16 marvelous musicians selected by Wynton Marsalis from his Lincoln Center Jazz All-Stars. Broadway musical audiences routinely exit during the “chase music,” but nobody leaves during “Rockin’ in Rhythm.” It’s a barn burner.
“After Midnight” is an expanded version of “Cotton Club Parade,” which sold out City Center in 2011 and 2012. Built around two dozen numbers identified with Duke Ellington, the show is framed within passages from Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes (“Harlem’s heartbeat was a drumbeat”), smoothly pronounced by Dule Hill, erstwhile beau of TV’s “West Wing” daughter. Along with stunning “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino (K.D. Lang replaces her in February), 25 super-talented performers and that world-class band provide a cavalcade of jazz perfection.
It’s one highlight after another. Three frisky gals close-harmonizing “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” segues into a cheerful “I’ve Got the World on a String” before Adriane Lenox, doing a 180 from the intense mother in “Doubt,” wrings wry (and early feminist) comedy from “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night.”
Fantasia’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” is like fine crystal, and her “Stormy Weather” is deeply soulful. The serpentine dance moves of Julius “iGlide” Chisholm, partnered with the loose-limbed Virgil “Lil’ O” Gadson, must be seen to be believed.
Describing the rest of the program would exhaust a thesaurus, but know that technically, the show is a beaut. John Lee Beatty’s sets, Isabel Toledo’s costumes and Howell Binkley’s lighting create the perfect venue for Director Warren Carlyle’s inspired choreography.
From jazz ballet to a cornucopia of tap, featuring “Tap Mathematician” Jared Grimes and the astonishing Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, “After Midnight,” fueled by conductor Daryl Waters’ sweet 16, is in perpetual motion. Just watching as the band glides toward the audience on risers is thrilling; then they play their music. Ahhhhh…
Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th St. NYC. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Ticketmaster.com or 877-250-2929. (Check out an excellent two-minute video prevue at www.aftermidnight.com.)