Photo: Kentucky Avenue Cast includes (l to R) Cheryl Freeman, Ty Stephens and Andricka Hall
Review by: Ward Morehouse III
On Kentucky Avenue – the Club Harlem Revue is set on the night of a dress rehearsal during the the club’s 1969 season in pre-casinos Atlantic City. But neither time nor nostalgic memories of a by-gone era, however vivid or hazy, can overshadow the brilliance of this new musical. And the word revue is actually a misnomer since it indicates a series of songs and dances stitched together around a common theme. But On Kentucky Avenue is a full-fledged, razzle-dazzle riveting “book” musical that startlingly transforms the tiny stage of Off-Broadway’s Triad Theatre into one of New York’s most magical and electric shows.
There are no ghosts of the past On Kentucky Avenue.
Rather, the show recreates a time that was with a brilliant blend of rousing original finger-snapping songs along with music of the 1960′s (such as “Rescue Me” and “You’re Nobody Till Somebody”…) And I felt like I might have felt if I was fortunate (and old enough!) to have heard the late George Gershwin play his signature “Rhapsody in Blue” in person.
In other words, move over The Last Ship, If/Then and even Jersey Boys. On Kentucky Avenue is a vivid example of what Broadway should and can be.
I personally have seen On Kentucky Avenue twice, the first time a number of months ago. “OK” was what I thought the first time. “Wow!” and “unbelievable” now. Mostly recently, Tony Award nominee Brenda Braxton (Smoky Joe’s Cafe) and recording artist Jenny Douglas stepped in for the brilliant stars Cheryl Freeman and Andrika Hall, both of whom had holiday commitments. They all thrill us with their grace, beauty, humor and especially their voices. But award-winning singer/songwriter Ty Stephens steals the show time and time again. Mr. Stephens delivers the kind of virtuoso performance that would do Engelbert Humperdinck and Wayne Newton proud indeed. The only difference is that that Mr. Stephen acts, too. Acts up a storm in a performance that is an heart-warming as it is exciting. Mr. Stephens, who plays the MC, is caught in a love triangle between the club’s lead showgirl and its featured female singer. Yet what could be ordinary becomes extraordinary, pulsing with pathos and the genuine emotion of longing and reconciliation.
Last and certainly not least is the show’s magnificent original score with such songs as “And If I Tell You I Love You,” by Mr. Stephens and Frank Owens, and “This World Is Mine” by Mr. Stephens. And when the music of the 1960′s starts there’s not a pair of hands not clapping in the audience.
This production also features Lee Summers as comedian ‘Slappy Black’ (modeled after real-life comedian Slappy White who performed frequently at Club Harlem) with special guest artist, Jeree Wade as singer Damita Jo. Mr. Summers plays his role with such believabilty it’s hard to believe he isn’t the character he portrays. Jeree Wade Also appearing are dancers (in alphabetical order): Brian Davis, Donna Clark, Gregory J. Hanks, Mindy Haywood, Cassandra Palacio, Renee Ternier and Olutayo Bosede. The “Hot Band” includes Frank Owens, Wilbur Bascomb, Richard Cummings, Jr. and David Silliman, Brian Brake and Jack Cavari. The show concept was first developed by Jeree Wade, is written by Adam Wade and Ty Stephens. Original music is by Ty Stephens, Frank Owens, Branice McKenzie, Wilbur Bascomb, Adam Wade and Jeree Wade. The Musical Direction is by Frank Owens. Choreography is by Ty Stephens, the Assistant Choreographer, Donna Clark, Dance Captain, Cassandra Palacio with Swing Dance Choreography by Mickey Davidson. The Showgirl Consultant is Betty Jo and Creative Consultant is Russ Weatherford. The Costumes were created by Ty Stephens and Pearl Williams, who is also the Executive Company Manager. Production Assistants are LaToya Britton and Moses Ukandu.
On Kentucky Avenue – The Atlantic City Club Harlem Revue is presented by Robert R. Blume, Adam Wade, Songbirds Unlimited Productions, Peter Martin/Rick Newman in association with J.R. Knauf, Marshall N. Warner, Marya Coburn & Step Forward Entertainment. Jazz producing legend, Cobi Narita is Associate Producer.
The musical has been playing three to four times a month this past year. Let’s hope that in 2015 this fabulous night (also the name of the show-stopper song “Fabulous Night” by Adam Wade, Mr. Owens and Mr. Stephens), is on Broadway.