If you were lucky enough to tune in to the Tony Awards from the very beginning last Sunday evening, you caught a pretty phenomenal opening spotlighting Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Fantasia singing a spirited rendition of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” The three were doing a number from the Broadway musical After Midnight, in which Fantasia originated the lead role presently played by Patti.
The three divas were immediately thereafter joined onstage by the rest of the cast for a spectacular dance number, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Thus, it was no surprise later in the program when After Midnight’s Warren Carlyle won the Tony for Best Choreography.
My appetite whetted by the Tonys, I attended a performance of the full show a few days later and was quite frankly bowled over by the 90-minute tribute to Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club. Of course, there was Patti holding the audience in the palm of her hand while belting out such jazz standards as “Stormy Weather,” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
However, the entire production proved pretty enthralling, unfolding in dizzying fashion, like a non-stop three-ring circus. After all, After Midnight has a cast of 87, provided you count the band, which you should since they’re onstage, too, not in an orchestra pit.
The festivities were elegantly emceed by the versatile Dule’ Hill, who also tapped and crooned a few classics along the way, including “I’ve Got the World on a String.” The jam-packed show featured over two-dozen tunes in all, and a variety of dance styles ranging from the Charleston of the Twenties to break-dancing, with a taste of every era between sprinkled in for good measure.
The play is closing on June 29th, so I suggest you move quickly, if you are a fan of Patti LaBelle’s, and would like to catch her in the show.