Celebrating the ethnic pride and cultural awareness of the 1920s and '30s Harlem Renaissance and a new musical style of that period called swing, this enjoyably energetic revue showcases the considerable musical talents of composer Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller, known for such hit songs as "Honeysuckle Rose," "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." In a production that is as stylish and sophisticated as anything you'll find on Broadway, director Chuck Smith, musical director/conductor Malcolm Ruhl and choreographer Lisa Johnson-Willingham have fashioned a delectable evening of more than 30 rowdy, humorous and sometimes touching numbers guaranteed to please adult audiences of all ages.
The Goodman stage has been magically transformed, thanks to Linda Buchanan and Robert Christen's sumptuous set and lighting designs, into a lavishly detailed art-deco night spot, not unlike New York's Cotton Club or Savoy Ballroom of the mid-20th century. Gossamer curtains, lighted projections and arches of burnished chrome, reminiscent of the Chrysler Building, frame the stage. Steps and platforms adorned with small tables and chairs and highlighted with champagne glasses and twinkling tea lights set the scene for the marvelous eight-member onstage band and the five accomplished performers.
Multitalented Chicago favorite E. Faye Butler puts her own unique stamp of distinction onto a role originated by popular comedic actress Nell Carter on Broadway. Miss Carter, the show and its director, it might be noted, won several awards, including both the Tony and Drama Desk for Best Musical of 1978. Alternating between comedic moments and dramatic turns as a jealous socialite ("Lounging at the Waldorf"), a diva USO singer ("Cash for Your Trash") and a wronged lover ("Mean to Me"), Ms. Butler has a way with a song and a raised eyebrow that will linger in your memory long after the finale.
Lina Kernan and the engaging, petite Alexis Rogers, also hold their own both individually and collectively with Ms. Butler in numbers like "When the Nylons Bloom Again," the delightfully raunchy "Find Out What They Like" and in the title song that both opens and closes the show. Ms. Kernan's sexy "Squeeze Me" and sweet little Ms. Rogers' winsome "Keeping Out of Mischief Now" are particular standouts. Lithe singer/dancer Parrish Collier and the big-voiced, mellow-toned John Steven Crowley both delight singly and in duets and group numbers with the ladies and each other. Collier is absolutely stunning in "The Viper" and Crowley's hilarious "Your Feet's Too Big" evokes spontaneous audience participation. But for all the broad, risque humor that dominates this revue, some of its finest moments come when the skilled ensemble simply and beautifully harmonize in such songs as "Lookin' Good But Feelin' Bad" and the simply eloquent "Black and Blue." If you pass by the Goodman Theatre during any of the performances between now and August 3, you'll notice that "This Joint is Jumpin!"