The Other Palace, London – until 15 April 2017
Guest review by L R Merin
Brought to London for the first time by producer Hoagy B Carmichael, This Joint is Jumpin’ is an exuberant homage to Fats Waller, the famous jazz pianist, composer, and virtuoso talent of the 1930’s Harlem Renaissance. Fats contributed his brilliance to the cultural, social, and artistic scene of the time and laid the groundwork for jazz musicians thereafter, including giants like Thelonius Monk and Count Basie. This Joint is Jumpin’ is London’s opportunity to drink some wine in a theatre-turned-jazz-bar, and settle into the moods evoked by some of Fats Waller’s greatest work.
This Joint is Jumpin’ is like a cool, sophisticated variety show, and owes everything to the musicians: the five-piece band, The Shakes, led by Michael Mwenso (co-conceiver, vocalist, musical director). Mwenso is joined by the great Lillias White (Tony award-winning Broadway diva and Emmy award-winning actress) and Vuyo Sotashe (vocalist, finalist at the prestigious Thelonius Monk Institute International Jazz Vocal competition). The two tap dancers, Michela Marino Lerman (co-conceiver and choreographer), and Joseph Wiggan (Princess Grace Award winner), dazzled us with their intricate moves. While MC Desiree Burch (comedian, writer, actor) kept us chuckling while delivering fascinating tidbits about Fat’s life and the temperature of the times in Harlem.
Centered around a carefully curated set list, This Joint is Jumpin’ is really more concert than theatre—and although there is a loose story framing the music. (the venue will be shut down if the audience doesn’t give their patronage and buy drinks…and lo and behold by the end of the show we have somehow raised enough money). If plot is what you’re after, you’ll be greatly disappointed. But for those who are satisfied with a fantastic evening of tunes and tap, this is the show for you. “It was as if joy was a verb!” Ms. MC declared about the jazz clubs of the Harlem Renaissance—and I was feeling it! So were most of the rest of the audience as I looked around. My favorites of the night were the sultry “Squeeze Me” and “Sweet Thing,” the smooth boss nova-laced “Honeysuckle Rose,” and the high-spirited “Truckin,” where the entire cast was on stage.
Finally, Lillias White’s rendition of “Black and Blue” was the definition of deeply felt soul—sorrowful, powerful—especially as it was introduced by an account of the 1926 murders of two wrongfully accused Black folks in the American south. There are themes of survival and freedom throughout the show, as jazz and blues were an expression of the racial tension and the relief from that tension—music, of course—of the times.
I highly recommend This Joint is Jumpin’—to Fats Waller fans, music lovers in general, and anyone who is up for exuberant and masterfully executed jazz. Vuyo Sotashe is really one to watch, and Lillias White did not disappoint. In fact, I would go to this show again—and next time take a few friends.