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A CurtainUp Review
One 'Mo Time
Rosalind Brown, Vernon Bagneris, Roz Ryan, B. J. Crosby
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
One 'Mo Time Moves to Broadway
by Elyse Sommer
The revival of this long-running, widely traveled revue was one of the big hits of last summer's Williamstown Theatre Festival. With the interest in all things jazz the response to the zestful performers and terrific band, I thought the show might have the legs for a return trip to New York. What I had in mind was a cabaret venue like the Village Theater. However, that theater's tenant, Love Janis is still in residence and it seems the show had higher ambitions. And so it has come to Broadway for an open-ended run.

All the elements of the summer 2001 ten-day hit (the typical WTF run) are in place -- cast, director, designers-- so the question that remains is whether One 'Mo Time Broadway-worthy? The Williamstown Theatre is large as summer venues go, seating some 500 and with a very decent sized stage. However, being a summer theater and its home being a college auditorium, it has an aura of casualness and intimacy. It is the absence of this aura that somehow makes One 'Mo Time seem a less satisfying sum of its parts at Broadway's Longacre Theater. Cambell Baird's handsome split set recreating the Lyric Theatre in 1926 New Orleans fills out the stage very nicely, and the performers still belt out those great songs and strut their stuff in Tony-Leslie James' snazzy costumes. However, somehow everything seems a bit too slick and lacking in spontaneity.

This is especially true of the theater owner (Wally Dunn) who periodically interrupts the music and backstage patter. His shtik of enlisting the audience to pretend that they're actually 25-cent ticket buyers at the Lyric now seems forced. The thin management vs. performer plot thread seems thinner and more in need of some sort of conclusion. Until the rousing "Muddy Waters" finale by Bertha and Ma Reed, the segues from onstage to backstage somehow lack the crisp, fresh feel I remember from last summer.

Since my original comments apply to the show now at the Longacre, I'm re-posting my initial comments. I still think it would have a better chance at an enduring run in a cabaret environment. However, if the enthusiasm of the audience at the matinee I attended is any indication, I may be wrong. I hope so for the sake of this talented troupe and the splendid band.
One Mo' Time
Written and directed by Vernel Bagneris
With: Vernel Bagneris (Papa Du), Rosalind Brown (Thelma), B. J. Crosby (Ma Reed), Wally Dunn (Theatre Owner) and Roz Ryan (Bertha).
Musicians (The New Orleans Blue Serenaders): Orange Kellin (musical director/clarinetist), Mark Braud (trumpet), Conal Fowkes (piano), Walter Payton. (tuba), Kenneth Sara (drums & percussion).
Set Design: Campbell Baird
Costume Design: Toni-Leslie James
Lighting Design: John McKernon
Sound Design: Kurt Kellenberger
Choreography by Eddie D. Robinson
Musical Arrangements: Lars Edegran & Orange Kellin
Vocal Arrangements: Lars Edegran & Topsy Chapman Running Time: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Longacre, 220 W. 48th St., (Broadway/8th Av), 239-6200
From 2/21/02; opening 3/06/02.
Tues-Sat at 8pm; matinees Wed and Sat at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm-- $30-$75.
The second time around and on Broadway didn't work-- the show is closing early on March 24, 2002.
Order Tickets

---Our Original Review

If you didn't see Vernel Bagneris' exuberant New Orleans jazz revue, One Mo' Time, during its triumphant four year run at New York's Village Gate, you've been given one mo' chance. What's mo' the show's nimble-footed creator is once again at the helm and playing his role as Papa Du, manager and only male in Bertha Williams' traveling show on the T.O.B.A. -- the Theatre Owners' Booking Agency of the black vaudeville circuit, renamed by its performers as Tough On Black Asses.

Bagneris' show brings back that era by recreating one night at the Lyric Theatre in New Orleans where jazz legends like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson often appeared. With the Adams Memorial Theatre's stage transformed into the stage and at to the side dressing room of the Lyric, and "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" best describes what you're going to experience.

The revue is a hybrid of musical theater. Gems like One Mo' Time show off the skill it takes to lift this from nightclub act to rousing theatrical entertainment. And what worked in a downtown Manhattan and in seven worldwide spinoff companies works very nicely in Williamstown. The songs that include such standards as "Dark Town Strutters Ball, Tiger Rag ", and the bluesy "He's Funny That Way " and "After You've Gone" as well as some less well known but bouncy vintage treasures are, of course, the heart of the show. But it's the way the parts of the pulsating whole have been put together that adds up to an artful and eye-catching two hours.

Besides astutely mixing known and lesser known songs from this by-gone but still musically influential era, Bagneris has assembled three ladies loaded with personality and powerful pipes: As the two seasoned troopers (fictional amalgams of 1920s legends like Ma Rainey) Roz Ryan as Bertha the figurative head of the show within the show and B. J. Crosby as Ma Reed epitomize all the big beautiful babes of song. To pepper the mix and lend a touch of conflict to the backstage scenes there's the troupe's ingenue, Thelma, played with sass and sizzle by Rosalind Brown.

The plot, typical of revues, hangs on a mere thread -- but that thread gives the characters individuality and dimension. The backstage interludes enrich and move things along in other important ways.

They allow for the frequent changes into Toni-Leslie James' drop-dead, period perfect costumes. Besides the mouth-watering dresses for the women and the natty spats for Papa Du and the musicians, these also include satirically apt outfits for Du's show-stopping black-face In "The Jailhouse Now" number and Ma Reed''s exotic dancer get-up.

The backstage business also accommodates some terrific band solos from the five-piece combo that's ensconced on stage. It includes Orange Kellin and Kenneth Sara from the original production

Finally, Bagneris has added the vaudeville element typical of the T.O.B.A. shows to the backstage camaraderie and competition and the interchanges with the theater owner (Wally Dunn ably characterizing both the often exploitative T.O.B.A. management and an amusing show-within-the-show MC). Thus the dressing room dialogue is as much a recreation of vaudeville's comic routine as an interlude. For example, there's the hard-drinking Bertha's scoffing at marriage ("Nobody wants to marry me when I'm drunk -- and I sure won't marry anyone when I'm sober"), and Papa Du's comeback to Bertha when she makes fun of his black face makeup ("What are you smiling at -- you look like that all the time!" ), and Ma Reed's "Let me make myself plain" being cut short by the sharp-tongued Thelma ("You don't have to, God already did").

One Mo' Time is also very much a tribute to the dances and dancers of the time. Thanks to Eddie D. Robinson's snazzy choreography there are enough Charlestons and Cakewalks to keep your feet tapping and your fingers snapping. While the women move it and shake it with plenty of rhythm and energy, it's the loose-jointed Bagneris who takes the honors in the dance department.

If the foot-stomping enthusiasm of the opening night audience is any indication and given the interest in New Orleans as the birth place of jazz and jazz performers sparked by Ken Burns television series, One Mo' Time might just have one mo' New York life, not on Broadway but Off. If Love Janis, the current tenant of the Village Theater, should vacate it would make for an apt homecoming. -- Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on June 21, 2001 performance at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

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