Like 42nd Street, whose press night fell in the same week as This Joint is Jumpin’, there’s a whole lot of tap dancing going on, and the storyline could be told in its entirety in a single paragraph. Michela Marino Lerman and Joseph Wiggan almost burned the floor with their speedy and skilled moves. Lillias White, who plays herself (or, rather, a character of the exact same name) brought the house down with her powerhouse vocals, pitched and projected at a perfect level. Hers is an extraordinary voice well suited to the tempos and beats of a distinct Fats Waller sound.
The ‘song list’ in the show’s programme doesn’t reveal everything, as there are reprises and loops of songs performed previously sprinkled in. What’s striking is how suddenly and smoothly the melody sometimes changes, occasionally within the same song. Jazz is not the sort of music I listen to on a regular basis (mind you, I’m not sure I listen to any sort of music regularly these days apart from musical theatre show tunes), but the inclusive nature of proceedings ensures a warm welcome and a comfortable and pleasant evening.
The venue is very appropriate for this production, generating the sort of atmosphere that might, cigarette smoke aside, be similar to what it was like to enjoy a performance from Waller and his band himself. Nobody here plays the role of Fats Waller – I got the feeling that the creative team behind this show thought that would be too irreverent of someone whose life and legacy they wish to celebrate.
The show’s band has its various members coming on and off-stage at different points in the show – they are the backbone of the performance, but exit the stage just like the actors do if they are not in a particular scene. The two supporting singers, Vuyo Sotashe and Michael Mwenso, are very much enjoying themselves on stage, while Desiree Burch’s Sammy Slyde has good stage presence but the character, the closest thing in this show to a master of ceremonies, could have told the audience a little more about Fats Waller.
Given the efforts made within the script to localise the show to a London audience, it surprised me that no mention was made of Waller’s appearance at the London Palladium, or on a BBC variety show broadcast from Alexandra Palace. I strongly suspect this is quite deliberate – as though the show wanted to be deliberately spartan on details about the man it adores, and be meticulously detailed instead on bringing his music to life as authentically as possible. Done this way, the audience is free to choose to read up as much or as little as they like on Waller after the show.
A highly enjoyable and energetic couple of hours, particularly if you’re up for something joyous but different from the usual musical theatre fare (wonderful though all of that is). Yes, it’s a jukebox musical: in essence, a selection of the back catalogue of Fats Waller’s compositions has been put into a show. At the end of the day, though, this live jazz experience, rolling back the decades, is certainly a lot of fun.
Review by Chris Omaweng
THERE’S A HARLEM RENT PARTY HAPPENING AND YOU’RE INVITED!
Celebrating jazz icon Fats Waller’s life and music, New York’s finest are in town and they want you to join them. Michael Mwenso and The Shakes are joined by hoofers Michela Lerman and Joseph Wiggan for an evening of exceptional live jazz, tap dancing and inventive storytelling. Singin’ for their supper and breathing new life into classics like Ain’t Misbehavin’, Black and Blue, Honeysuckle Rose, these hip contemporary artists celebrate American jazz via their critically acclaimed style. This promises to be an unforgettable evening.
Lillias White – Vocalist
Michael Mwenso – Vocalist
Vuyo Sotashe – Vocalist
Michela Marino Lerman – Dancer
Joseph Wiggan – Dancer
Dion Keith Kerr IV – The Shakes, Bass
Mathis Picard – The Shakes, Piano
Mark Kavuma – The Shakes, Trumpet
Kyle Poole – The Shakes, Drums
Ruben Fox – The Shakes, Tenor Saxophone
Desiree Burch – Sammy Slyde
Hoagy B. Carmichael Executive Producer
Patrice Miller Director
Michela Marino Lerman Choreographer
Michael Mwenso Musical Director
4 – 15 April 2017
This Joint is Jumpin