Eugene Fleming and Carol Hatchett light up the stage
in ‘Sophisticated Ladies.’ (photo by Michael Askew)
The Redondo Performing Arts Center is masquerading as Harlem's world-renowned Cotton Club, complete with Ford Model Ts lavishly parked in the front of the theater's foyer. The hot, heart-pounding music, high-stepping tap dancing and scantily clad women slyly gyrating down stage center perfectly capture that flamboyant and pleasure-seeking time in American history known as the Jazz Age.
No artist better symbolizes the 1920s creative explosion better than the music of Duke Ellington. The Duke's music hits the listener at both a primal and refined level that elevates and redefines sophistication. The crass, repressed, puritanical American culture of the previous decade was blown into oblivion by Ellington's brassy horns and grinding percussion.
The Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities has gathered a bevy of triple-threat talent to present Donald McKayle's Tony Award-winning “Sophisticated Ladies.” The all singing and dancing revue is thematically connected by the glitz and glamour of a bygone era that Ellington's music passionately and humorously represent: “Take the ‘A' Train,” “I'm Beginning to See the Light,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Satin Doll,” “It Don't Mean a Thing” and, of course, “Sophisticated Lady” are timeless pieces of music that are paradoxically set in a specific era in time.
Director and choreographer Cheryl Baxter's fast-paced, quick-transitioning revue beautifully builds to breath-catching peaks as her performers never perspire or seem winded by her very demanding show.
The revue's principals collectively and individually stop the show on several occasions with their spectacular dancing and singing. Eugene Fleming, Lacy Darryl Phillips, Carol Hatchett, Angela Teek, Jeffery Williams, Misty Cotton and Rob Thompson seem to leave it all down stage center after each and every number.
An even and experienced ensemble of performers backs up the principals. Baxter has fittingly lifted musical director C. Steve Smith and his hot and in-the-pocket orchestra out of the pit and onto the stage, up center, to elevate the power and density of Ellington's sound.
Here is an opportunity to see a show that pays homage to a distinctly American art form and, more importantly, to the man who gave it polish and sophistication.