- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

“The All Night Strut!” is more of a wobble, a lackluster spin through popular songs of the 1920s through the ‘50s that never quite takes off despite the energetic efforts of the four-member cast and director Thomas W. Jones II.

On the surface, there is much to like about the music-and-dance revue. The show features a tight three-piece jazz combo ” pianist William Knowles, Yusef Chisholm on bass and Gregory Holloway on percussion ” performing in the intimate, clublike atmosphere of MetroStage in Alexandria.

Actors William Hubbard, Darryl Jovan, Yvette Spears and Lori Anne Williams move well in the small space and sing in ways that mostly would make Ella, Lady Day and Nat King Cole proud. And Mr. Jones is known for his fancy, eclectic musical arrangements.

With all that and songs by the likes of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Bessie Smith, and Frank Loesser, how can the show miss?

Conceived by Fran Charnas more than two decades ago, “Strut” feels musty, playing it safe with old favorites such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “As Time Goes By,” “The White Cliffs of Dover” and “Tuxedo Junction.” A few numbers provide novelty, such as the raucous “Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer)” and the rarely performed “Rosie the Riveter,” but the show overall seems reheated ” to room temperature.

“Strut” contains some jarring mood shifts, too. A jaunty World War II medley, including “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” lurches into Bessie Smith’s plaintive “Backwater Blues.” The sassy Cab Calloway song “Minnie the Moocher” slaps up against “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” which details the despair of the newly poor during the Depression.

Mr. Jones attempts to spruce up matters by over-orchestrating many of the numbers until they are barely recognizable. “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” is a simple song that builds deliberately to an emotional climax. Mr. Jones takes a smooth-jazz approach here, with Mr. Jovan noodling on the notes like a Kenny G sax solo run amok, then affecting a falsetto that might have worked if the singer could sustain the high notes without cracking. For the big finish, Mr. Jovan shrieks, “Buddy, can you spare a …” ” his Bob Fosse jazz hands a-waving ” before he whispers the final “dime.” You just want to run for the exits.

This sort of hammy excess runs rampant through “Strut,” with a bawdy take on “Java Jive” exploring the little-known lewd side of caffeine and “A Fine Romance” depicting two couples bickering with motormouth velocity. The songs may be over-produced, but the set seems low budget, with a rolling stepladder and scaffolding bedecked with what looks like shower curtains giving the impression of anything but a ritzy nightclub.

The tinkering with melody works beautifully in “Fascinating Rhythm,” which is set to a bossa-nova beat. And the second act moves faster and more coherently than the first. The harmonies are smoother, the singing less dependent on that endless showboating stringing-out of notes that passes for vocalizing these days.

Yet a stronger, swifter second act notwithstanding, “Strut” remains a viewing experience that often feels like it takes all night.

**

WHAT: “The All Night Strut,” conceived by Fran Charnas

WHERE: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through March 27.

TICKETS: $32 to $38

PHONE: 800/494-8497

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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