The Other Palace, London – until 16 April 2017
Patrice Miller’s lively and entertaining production captures the spirit of the jazz era, while celebrating the music of Thomas Wright ‘Fats’ Waller. It seems that tap dancing is proving popular at the moment, not only has 42nd Street opened in the West End but now this lively tribute to Fats Waller’s music is matched by some pretty nifty tap dancing performed and choreographed by Michela Marino Lerman and Joseph Wiggan.
Combined with wonderful music such as ‘Thief in the Night’, ‘This Joint is Jumpin’ and ‘Handful of Keys’, the production sweeps audiences effectively right back to the age of jazz that is both relaxing and entertaining in equal measures. However, if you come into the show expecting to find out more about the man himself then you might be slightly disappointed as while there are stories about his life (including a memorable one involving Waller being kidnapped for Al Capone) you never get to understand his back story.
But then perhaps this is deliberate, by serenading audiences with sophisticated music and banter, by the end you are curious to find out more about the man behind the music. It is quite an imaginative and effective technique that draws the audience into the world in which he lived in – the good and the bad sides.
As well as the fantastic footwork provided by Lerman and Wiggan who never miss a beat, there are some strong performances vocally from the likes of Michael Mwenso and Vuyo Sotashe, whose vocals are wonderfully soulful and silky smooth throughout. Broadway star Lillias White is also a delight to listen to – warm, soulful with just a hint of attitude that fills The Other Palace studio with ease.
Desiree Burch as Sammy Slyde is a strong personality adding humour to proceedings, but she did feel slightly underused in terms of talking about Waller’s life or even his music. That lack of detail means that the show does lack engagement with Waller in places – but yet still manages to engage the audience into having a great time.
This is helped by the intimate surroundings of The Other Palace Studio, which is the ideal venue to host what is ultimately an intimate evening of jazz – surrounded by great musicians in the form of Michael Mwenso and The Shakes. Brilliantly performed and toe-tappingly fun, this joint really was jumpin last night. Well worth a visit if you love jazz.