Review: DUKE ELLINGTON’S SOPHISTICATED LADIES at Porchlight Music Theatre

Review: DUKE ELLINGTON’S SOPHISTICATED LADIES at Porchlight Music Theatre

DUKE ELLINGTON’S SOPHISTICATED LADIES is a classic Porchlight show: an ebullient musical revue showcasing both the esteemed song catalog of Duke Ellington and also the formidable talents of some of the city’s finest musical theater performers. Conceived by Donald McKayle and here featuring direction and choreography from Brenda Didier and Florence Walker-Harris and music direction from Jermaine Hill, SOPHISTICATED LADIES is a production immense in its capacity to entertain. The revue has no plot, though the ensemble members take on various personas throughout the evening. While some of the performers are given cheeky titles in the program, such as “The Soubrette” or “The Chanteuse,” to name a couple examples, the actors themselves are listed next to each number. It’s a charming twist, for it makes this production unapologetic in its revue identity. Above all, SOPHISTICATED LADIES not only highlights the musical stylings of Duke Ellington, but also the actors themselves. 

Delightfully, Didier, Walker-Harris, and Hill have staged SOPHISTICATED LADIES in that it has a near equal emphasis on music, vocals, and dance. The numbers alternate between singing and dancing, and this variation allows the production to keep pace and reveal numerous surprises as it goes on. The choreography incorporates a delectable amount of tap and swing dancing, with a number of gymnastics-like feats included. Angela Weber Miller’s bilevel set design gives the ensemble a fitting space on which to execute, and the prominent placement of the band onstage reminds audiences that the instruments are indispensable to Ellington’s signature jazz. Theresa Ham’s seemingly never-ending selection of costumes also reflect the time period and provide plenty of sparkle and visual enjoyment. 

All the performers in SOPHISTICATED LADIES seem charmingly engaged and fully invested in this production. I would be remiss not to mention some of the most outstanding vocalists of the evening. It should come as no surprise that the formidable Donica Lynn, who is no stranger to Porchlight, is incredibly well-suited to Ellington’s music. Her delivery of Ellington’s famous “It Don’t Mean A Thing” is remarkable, and her ability to riff is jaw-dropping. Lorenzo Rush Jr. tears into each of his solos with seeming ease, and he has energetic stage presence in spades. He’s well-matched in some duets by Lydia Burke, who has an impressive vocal range and makes it all look easy. Molly Kral not only has crystalline vocals, but also puts some enjoyable character work into her numbers—particularly the sass she bestows upon “Imagine My Frustration” in the second act. John Marshall Jr. proves a swell vocal partner for Kral, and he’s also a smooth dancer. Donterrio Johnson is also a standout, delivering his number with a suaveness and sleekness that the music demands but simultaneously with genuine feeling. The show also features an ensemble of Sophisticated Ladies and Gentlemen, who keep the show’s energy humming. 

Porchlight’s staging of DUKE ELLINGTON’S SOPHISTICATED LADIES showcases the company’s essence in many ways, and it will undoubtedly leave audiences in a swinging and singalong mood. 

Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of DUKE ELLINGTON’S SOPHISTICATED LADIES plays through March 6 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 North Dearborn. Tickets Are $39-$66. Visit PorchlightMusicTheatre.org or call 773.777.9884. 

Photo courtesy of Porchlight Music Theatre

Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com 

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