Corrections or additions?

This article by Simon Saltzman

was prepared for the March 27, 2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New York: `One Mo’ Time’

One Mo’ Time," a show that opened without fanfare

at the Village Gate in 1979, became a minor theatrical phenomenon.

It ran more than three years, spawned seven touring companies, and

played a royal command performance for Queen Elizabeth II. Area

audiences

will remember a terrific staging of the show at Crossroads Theater

in 1985. Created by Vernal Bagneris, the graceful eccentric dancer

who both directed and starred in the original production, "One

Mo’ Time" has returned to Broadway with its author and star still

in fine form.

Bagneris, who followed his "One Mo’ Time" success with

"Further

Mo," subsequently wrote and starred in "Jelly Roll" (a

show he also brought to Crossroads Theater). He also appeared on

Broadway

in the Cy Coleman musical "The Life." "One Mo’ Time"

was revived last summer at the Williamstown Theater Festival and the

same production is now at the Longacre Theater.

An upbeat recreation of 1920s black musical vaudeville, "One Mo’

Time" remains a pleasant diversion which rises, at times, to

become

jubilant and exciting entertainment.

If Bagneris’ mellowed charms and sweetly sensual dancing style have

become a little more relaxed and familiar over the years, he continues

to generate a warmly individualized on-stage personality. It is,

however,

up to rest of the company to offer the solid, if not quite

show-stopping,

support. Rather too heavy on song and soft on dance, the show succeeds

at recreating the illusion of a bygone era with an unerring eye and

ear.

Right from the downbeat, the New Orleans Blue Serenaders — with

Conal Fowkes on keyboard, Kenneth Sara on drums, Mark Braud on

trumpet,

musical director Orange Kellin on clarinet, and Walter Payton on tuba

— make sure their on-stage combo is not about to take a back seat.

In fact, their entr’acte, "Muskrat Ramble," may have received

the loudest and longest applause.

Approximately 30 musical numbers have been bridged together by

Bagneris

to bring to life both the backstage frictions and the on-stage polish

at one Lyric Theater, New Orleans, in the 1920s.

There is plenty of life in the five fine performers assigned to bring

a non-stop barrage of blues and jazz-age tunes onto designer Campbell

Baird’s cleverly planned stage and dressing room setting. It isn’t

long before we know just about everything we need to about a

now-extinct

style of vaudeville, in particular the T.O.B.A. circuit. The acronym

for "Theater Owners Booking Agency," was translated by its

roster of black entertainers to "Tough On Black Asses."

The heyday of vaudeville, in particular, was a trove of some of the

greatest singers and songs in American history. Some of them —

Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Sweet Mama Stringbean (whose real name

was Ethel Waters) — were regulars on the circuit and played the

famed Lyric before it was destroyed by fire in 1927.

While there is no immediate identification made with

the great personalities who immortalized much of the music, there

is, in Bagneris’ Papa Du, Rosalind Brown’s Thelma, B.J. Crosby’s Ma

Reed, and Roz Ryan’s Bertha, a consolidation of styles and homages

as true to the performers’ role models as to their own exceptional

talents. Why even Wally Dunn, as the semi-reputable theater owner,

sounded as if he meant business, especially when warning the

presumably

rowdy audience about spitting on the floor and other indelicate

behavior.

Bagneris keeps the musical numbers rolling faster than a speeding

bullet, while backstage contracts are being torn up, wigs are being

torn off and an alcoholic diva is seen whipping her little company

into shape.

The plot, in which a touring company finds itself having to cover

for two missing members is mostly a stable of hoary, heavily whiskered

jokes spliced together with a combination of ebullient elan and trashy

panache, sufficed. A little imagination will tell you what Ryan (who

most recently played Mama Morton in Broadway’s "Chicago"),

decked out like Lady Astor’s pet horse, can do with a number like

"Kitchen Man" probably one of the most suggestive of great

comic blues songs. Just when you’ve put all those fruits and

vegetables

back in proper perspective, she comes back for the kill with "The

Right key but the Wrong Keyhole." Although the show could have

used a strong male hoofer, there is no tapping per say, and a comedian

in the style of Bert Williams, to balance the song after song

construct,

the cast does its share of doing as well as suggesting.

"Honky Tonk Town," "Cake Walking Babies," and

"Wait

Till You See My Baby Do the Charleston," were rousing numbers.

Brown, who is continuing in the role she played in Williamstown, has

enough talent for two, and proves it with "I’ve Got What It

Takes"

followed by a torchy "He’s Funny That Way." Bagneris, Ryan

and Crosby join forces to give the "Black Bottom" the show’s

most exuberant display of dancing. Bagneris slithers and slides

delectably

through "New Orleans Hop Scop Blues." By the time the company

gets to the finale, you may not feel you have spent a "A Hot Time

in the Old Town," but you will think of it as a warm and nostalgic

one. Two stars. Maybe You Should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman


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