Play On!

Book:Cheryl L. West
Songs:Duke Ellington
Music:Luther Henderson
Choreography:Mercedes Ellington
Conceived and Directed by:Sheldon Epps
Sets:James Leonard Joy
Costumes:Marianne Elliott
Lighting:Jeff Davis
Sound:Jeff Ladman
Opened: 3/97 at the Brooks Atkinson Theater
Cast:Cheryl Freeman, Andre De Shields, Larry Marshall, Yvette Cason, Carl Anderson, Lawrence Hamilton and Tonya Pinkins

Play On!
Carol Rosegg
Duke Ellington's soulful melodies transport this adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to hopping 1940s Harlem. Hard-working to a fault, this bawdy comedy of mistaken identity follows a young songwriter Vy (Freeman), who disguises herself as a man to get ahead in the business; as only the Bard would have it, she's soon ensnared in a messy, comic love triangle. The sublime Ellington score features such sonorous showstoppers as “I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues” and “Rocks in My Bed” performed by the sassy chanteuses Freeman and Pinkins. But a musical, alas, cannot triumph on score alone. The show is broadly written, and the choreography (by Duke's granddaughter) missteps with sloppy jitterbugging. And, while the classically Shakespearean case of mistaken identity stirs up some moments of genuine flair, it never presents a conflict or quest urgent enough to propel the narrative. The cast earnestly plays on but never finds its groove.