BWW Reviews: IT AIN'T OVER 'TIL THE FAT LADY SINGS - Crowd Pleasing Musical Revue
Founded in 1993, Houston's Encore Theatre is returning to its midtown roots by opening a performance space at the corner of Main Street and Wentworth Street. It has been Encore Theatre's goal to provide quality theatre to Houstonians, especially to those who are economically disenfranchised and wish to enjoy the beauty of live theatrical performance.
Opening it's new location, Harold J. Haynes, Founding Artistic Director, has written and directed a musical revue entitled IT AIN'T OVER 'TIL THE FAT LADY SINGS! The show tells the story of The Jungle, a Harlem based bar that is struggling to keep its doors open. To bolster business, the nefarious manager, Slim Daddy, looks into replacing his leading lady, The Queen, all while attempting to line the pockets of the New York Police for extra protection against his competition.
Starring as The Queen, Zedri Whaley utilizes soulful R&B vocals to compel the audience. Her ability to riff is pretty impressive at times, but I found myself wishing for more clout in her vocals. She also heaves a hefty amount of diva attitude around the stage, making her portrayal of the nightclub star believable. The audience at the production I saw vocalized their empathy for her heartache and swooned for the development of a new and healthier romantic situation.
As Slim Daddy, E'Tian Parker, lets his fantastic control of facial expressions chew the scenery with his caricature portrayal of a slimy and womanizing club manager. His immoral actions also elicited audible and palpable emotional response from the collected audience, who loved to jeer the adroitly portrayed villain.
Daron Gilmore adeptly plays Lucky, the sensitive and caring bartender. He was an audience favorite, especially when crooning in romantic duets with Zedri Whaley's Queen. The audience vocally implored him to reveal his feelings for The Queen time and time again, and ate up every moment of his Act II declaration of love.
As the tempting villainess Leona, Kimberly Roberts is fun to hate. She deftly handles her role, mucking up the situation for any who crosses her path. She makes it abundantly clear that her character only watches out for one person-her self. The audience jeered her throughout the play, and was quick to respond to each of her strategized and plotted moves.
BranDon Morgan plays an assortment of character fairly well. He left the audience rolling with his highly-caricaturized, quasi-vaudevillian character Louie and made them cringe when he played the ill-meaning Irish beat cop, Officer DeFoe. I found him enjoyable, but wish he had left his attempt at an Irish accent offstage. It sometimes slipped into an almost Russian accent with a hint of Asian abruptness; therefore, he detracted from his performance overall.
Cynthia Ellis's dance captain Dominique was delightfully stern and rigid in the rehearsal scenes, providing an interesting portrayal of a harshly professional, hard-to-please choreographer that simply wants to put on the best show possible.
The remaining members of the cast did sturdy jobs completing the picture of a Harlem Renaissance era club. Whether playing patrons, waiters, or any of the other various roles assigned, they committed to their roles and worked hard to please the crowd.
Harold J. Haynes writing and direction of the thin plot does drag a little in each of the two acts, but the musical numbers are what really sells the show and appeases the audience. Listening to the cast perform, it is clear that Sammie L. Ammons, the musical director and pianist for the production, has worked on delivering powerhouse vocals that would feel at home on American Idol. The only thing I suggest in terms of music direction is that the speakers that amplify the band be turned down some. There are moments where vocals are rendered almost inaudible by the band.
While not my personal preference, I did find myself moved by some of the performances and enjoying IT AIN'T OVER 'TIL THE FAT LADY SINGS! as a whole. Undoubtedly, the audience around me was blown away and utterly engaged by every second of the production. It would be really easy for me to allow my personal tastes to tear the show apart; however, I would be ignoring the obvious hard work and effort that this cast and crew put into the work. I would also be ignoring the fact that every other patron in attendance truthfully had a fantastic time and legitimately connected to the performance in an electrifying way. The energy on the stage and in the audience was high, and the audience was treated to everything they wanted and expected. Personally, I do feel that the show relied a little heavily on the emotional responses from the audience, reminding me of the infamous call back lines at THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. Do I feel that this was a particularly stellar and evening of theatre, no. Did I have fun, yes, and so did the patrons around me.
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