Set Rentals
Back To Past Seasons Page

Sophisticated Ladies

On This Page

  • South Hampton Press
  • Newsday
  • Dan's Papers

    South Hampton Press

    Very sassy 'Sophisticated Ladies' at Gateway Theater

    By Lee Davis
    Jun 2, 09 3:55 PM

    And so, the professionals are back in town. And are they ever back, in the dynamite, electric and thrilling mounting at the Gateway Theater of “Sophisticated Ladies,” the 1981 very high stepping revue of an evening of Duke Ellington music that ran for more than 700 performances on Broadway in its original incarnation.

    It has been revived endlessly since then, usually with many modifications. But there’s nothing modified about the Gateway production. In fact, if anything, this is an intensification of a show that plunges forward like a runaway train from its overture to its final, rip roaring finale. “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” the stars and ensemble reprise at the end, and this production swings every second of its running time.

    This is Gateway’s 60th season, and if its launching show is any evidence, it’s not showing its age at all. In fact this stage full of astonishing singer/dancers are treating “Sophisticated Ladies” as if it had been freshly minted and mounted this afternoon.

    Much of this can be credited to Chet Walker, who, trailing a comet’s tail of credits from Broadway and elsewhere, including “A Chorus Line” and “Fosse,” directs and choreographs the goings on with refreshing inventiveness that incorporates a treasury of tap setting the songs in their proper and best time period. He never lets a silent moment occur, and fills the stage with a plenitude of challenging and original choreography into which his virtuoso cast plunges headlong and feet flying.

    Once again, Robin Joy Allan has assembled a priceless cast, every one of whom is a gem in his or her own way. The ensemble is as precisely tuned as a fine watch, and yet each is a memorable individual. This critic was particularly taken by the statuesque Liz Patek, but everyone in this tightly packed chorus is impressive, from the black and white 1930s movies evocation of “Sophisticated Lady,” to the wild and woolly jitterbug number, to the multiple combination jazz and tap spirit-raisers.

    The principals all shine in individual ways. Jennifer Byrne gives the dance party vocal variety early with a socko rendition of “Hit Me with a Hot Note,” then scats with Jon Peterson through the rightly titled “BliBlip,” then joins him with an elegant “Satin Doll.” By himself, Jon Peterson lights the proceedings with a nicely sung “Everything but You.”

    Carly Hughes has an arresting, multifaceted voice and personality, able to handle the contrasting “Take the A Train,” the touching sweetness of “In a Sentimental Mood,” and, with Jennifer Byrne, a medley of “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” and “Mood Indigo.”

    Francesca Harper is an astonishing dancer with endless extensions who dances hot in the “Love You Madly” and “Perdido” coupling, and cool in “Solitude” and “I’m Beginning To See the Light.” Whenever, she’s poetry to see.

    Eugene Fleming is the classic master of tap, which he shows off with spirit and finely honed skill in “Music is a Woman,” “Don’t Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” a batch of production numbers, and his own self-choreographed second act solo tap, “Kinda Dukish.”

    These are only random selections. The entirety of the charismatic holding power of the show is its greatest quality. Musical co-director (with Jeff Hoffman) Brendan Whiting conducts a swinging onstage band. Brittany Loesch, illuminated by family member Brian Loesch, has designed an exciting kaleidoscope of eye candy color and swiftly sweeping curtains. B.G. Fitzgerald’s costumes run the swift and demanding race between wild and sophisticated with exquisite grace.

    For an exciting theater evening that will make you exit singing and smiling, “Sophisticated Ladies” is just the right bubbling tonic to take you out of the winter and into the spring. Don’t miss it.

    “Sophisticated Ladies” continues every night but Monday and in several matinees a week through June 13 at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, 20 minutes west of Westhampton. The box office number is 286-1133.


    Review: 'Sophisticated Ladies' at Gateway Playhouse


    June 3, 2009

    The "concept" for "Sophisticated Ladies," the 1981 Broadway revue, is credited to Donald McKayle. But the show's only true conception is the songwriting genius of Duke Ellington. There are no connecting threads, as in the Fats Waller revue "Ain't Misbehavin' " and without a sultry, stomping, slam-bang cast of singers, dancers and musicians, "Sophisticated Ladies" is just a concert of randomly selected songs.

    But under the direction of Chet Walker, who created the 1999 Tony-winning best musical "Fosse," Gateway Playhouse's season opener sizzles.

    In the song-and-dance role originated by Gregory Hines, Eugene Fleming, a Broadway veteran with credits including "Black and Blue," "Fosse," "A Chorus Line" and "Tap Dance Kid," bedazzles. His "Kinda Dukish" tap virtuoso and throaty lament, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" - paired with Francesca Harper's "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" - is enough to earn top billing. But his lead on the title song, once again wooing an aloof Harper, earns him a standing ovation.

    Carly Hughes, fresh from Broadway's "Putnam County Spelling Bee," commands both the silky and saucy ranges of her Duke repertoire, from "It Don't Mean a Thing If You Ain't Got That Swing" to "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," which alternates verses with Jennifer Byrne delivering a haunting "Mood Indigo."

    Though flawlessly accompanied by Brendan Whiting and Jeff Hoffman's big band, not all the numbers are knockouts. While vocally pleasing, Jon Peterson appears to be out of his musical comfort zone in "Just Squeeze Me" opposite Byrne's "Satin Doll." In the "Caravan" ensemble piece, some miscasting and an ill-suited "sheik" outfit unintentionally make fun of Arabs. Otherwise, B.G. Fitzgerald's costume designs add a touch of elegance, while Brittany Loesch's movable bandstand and mood-altering curtain designs give us a sense that maybe we should've dressed flashy, too.

    We could all use a little sophistication these days.
    Sophisticated Ladies at Gateway Playhouse

    By Roy Bradbrook

    It's always good to see the opening of the new season at Gateway Playhouse, especially as it is celebrating its 60th anniversary and once again producer Paul Allan and his colleagues have come up with a great blend of old and new, and well known and not so well known shows that will run in Bellport and Patchogue from now until mid October. Miss Saigon and A Chorus Line are among the top musicals ever written, The Drowsy Chaperone and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are recent Broadway hits that will be seen on Long Island for the first time and Meshuggah-Nuns and Sophisticated Ladies represent the lesser known shows.

    Duke Ellington is a name revered by all musicians and rightly so, for he was a man of incredible talents whose music came in very many styles. He once described his music as "American music," rather than jazz, and many rate him as America's best composer. In his career he wrote well over 2,000 pieces and was awarded 17 honorary doctorates, as well as the highest civilian honors from the United States and from France - the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Legion of Honor.

    Sophisticated Ladies is really a review, rather than a musical, because it is basically a mélange of Ellington's songs performed by a cast of singers and dancers without any dialogue creating storyline. This is a great shame, because this should have been a story of an exceptional man.

    That said, if you love his music, you are in for a treat, because the non-stop action covers well over 30 of his songs. This is a production where in many ways the orchestra is the star, and under the direction of Brendan Whiting, who plays the piano, it really recreated the sound of the Big Band era. All of the lighting, backdrops and scenery designed by the husband and wife team of Brian and Brittany Loesch and the costume design of B.G. Fitzgerald added to the ambience in transporting us back to the '30s and '40s, when the Duke was in his musical prime.

    For the singers and dancers, it was an evening of quick changes of style, tempo and costume. Although the program says the show is based on a concept by Donald McKyle, it really is hard to see any discernable pattern in the way the songs were placed within the show and sometimes this called for some unusual segues.

    Standards such as "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," "Take the A Train," "Solitude," "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Mood Indigo," plus many other less well known pieces gave Jennifer Byrne, Eugene Fleming, Francesca Harper, Carly Hughes and Jon Peterson the opportunity to display their vocal abilities and also showed just how demanding Ellington's melodic lines and phrasing can be. The more you listen, the more you realize this was by no means a simple jazz musician! The dancers showed great enthusiasm and energy as they interpreted the music in styles ranging from jazz and ballet to some great tap dancing, something unfortunately rarely featured today.

    Sophisticated Ladies runs until June 13. Overall, this is a fun evening for anyone who has even the slightest interest in music of this genre and almost certainly you will come out feeling happy, with some of those beautiful melodies running through your mind. After all, isn't this what a night out at the theater should be? The great pity is that the audiences will go home knowing as little or as much about this musical genius, Duke Ellington, as they did when they entered the theater. This is no fault of the production, but rather, the original concept.