There should be a Tony category for revues -- elaborate vaudevilles like AFTER MIDNIGHT. It's not a musical in the conventional sense. There's no story, no dialogue -- just under 90 minutes of musical numbers recreating a 1930s night club show at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem.
You can't fault the quality of this show. The music -- the kind of songs that would be performed in a place like the Cotton Club back then -- is delightful, from standards like "I've Got the World on a String" and "Stormy Weather" to catchy but less familiar tunes of the period. All the singers are fine and the band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars, is thrilling. The choreography is terrific and superbly danced. The costumes are gorgeous.
In the revolving door of guest leading ladies (Vanessa Williams just left and Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight are coming up), we got Fantasia Barrino who is new to me but well known to most of the audience. She sings the standards well and moves gracefully, but her tattoos don't go with the beautiful, elegant costumes she is given to wear. Dule Hill isn't given a lot to do. The entire company is chock full of talent and charm.
Nonetheless, the show feel a bit skimpy for Broadway prices. At our performance there were rows of empty seats in the mezzanine, which is too bad for such a stage full of singing and dancing talent. But it is vaudeville and $100+ is pricey for vaudeville.
It's not fair that this show is nominated for a Tony for Best Musical when creative work like IF/THEN is ignored.
Before the show, we joined the throng in Shubert Alley watching "Stars in the Alley." There the casts of a number of Broadway shows sang songs from their productions. The event was hosted by the talented, charismatic Norm Lewis. Listening to one song after another, I couldn't help noticing how monotonous so much current Broadway music is. The show opened with a dreary anthem from ROCKY that only gave me another reason not to see the show. When the current cast of CHICAGO came out and sang and danced "Roxy," the quality meter shot way up. Even songs from PHANTOM sounded like great music compared to the scores of the new shows. I must say that Norm Lewis made more of "Music in the Night" than anyone else I have heard. He sang it instead of crooning it. Fred Ebb and Andrew Lloyd Webber knew how to write melodies. It's sad that the only really fine original Broadway score this season -- Jason Robert Brown's score for THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY -- was not fully appreciated. Sadly, that show is closed. Off-Broadway, we had the brilliant FUN HOME and there's still David Byrne's and Fatboy Slim's HERE LIES LOVE. For the most part at "Stars in the Alley" a lot of really talented people sang some pretty mediocre music. The old standards performed in AFTER MIDNIGHT show how much better songwriting was eighty years ago. That may be the best reason to see the show.
AFTER MIDNIGHT. Brooks Atkinson Theatre. May 21, 2014.