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
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
Mo," subsequently wrote and starred in "Jelly Roll" (a
show he also brought to Crossroads Theater). He also appeared on
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
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,
up to rest of the company to offer the solid, if not quite
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
Right from the downbeat, the New Orleans Blue Serenaders — with
Conal Fowkes on keyboard, Kenneth Sara on drums, Mark Braud on
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
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
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
rowdy audience about spitting on the floor and other indelicate
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
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
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
the cast does its share of doing as well as suggesting.
"Honky Tonk Town," "Cake Walking Babies," and
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
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
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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