Review Roundup: JELLY'S LAST JAM Opens at New York City Center

The production will run through March 3.

By: Feb. 22, 2024
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Review Roundup: JELLY'S LAST JAM Opens at New York City Center
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Jelly’s Last Jam is currently running through March 3 at New York City Center. 

The company is led by director Robert O’Hara with choreography by Edgar Godineaux and tap choreography by Dormeshia, with Guest Music Director Jason Michael Webb leading The Encores! Orchestra.

The cast includes Nicholas Christopher as Jelly, John Clay III as Jack the Bear, Joaquina Kalukango as Anita, Tiffany Mann as Miss Mamie, Okieriete Onaodowan as Buddy Bolden Billy Porter as Chimney Man, Leslie Uggams as Gran Mimi, and Alaman Diadhiou in his New York stage debut as Young Jelly. 

Written by George C. Wolfe and set to jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton’s iconic tunes with lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and musical adaptation and additional music composed by Luther Henderson, Jelly’s Last Jam is an electrifying musical telling the story of jazz through its self-proclaimed inventor and secured nine Tony nominations, three wins, and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book for the original 1992 Broadway production.

See what the critics are saying...

Photo Credit: Bruce Glikas

Review Roundup: JELLY'S LAST JAM Opens at New York City Center Jesse Green, The New York Times: The book has unsolvable problems, but then so do most musicals, until they are solved — or bulldozed. Even then, few give you a first act like this one, or a subject — the creation of American music in the furious cauldron of race — as hot. I mean hot as entertainment, of course, but also, even hotter, as history.

Review Roundup: JELLY'S LAST JAM Opens at New York City Center Jackson McHenry, Vulture: The score is built around Jelly Roll Morton’s own music — with lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and some additional music by Luther Henderson — and it serves as a showcase for Morton’s genius as well as the talents of this production’s starry cast. Jason Michael Webb, the guest musical director, fills the theater with sound and energy, making the first act feel like a series of dramatic crescendos, each outdoing the last.

Review Roundup: JELLY'S LAST JAM Opens at New York City Center Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Playing the bejeweled angel, Porter is, well, Porter: flamboyant, loud and often downright obnoxious. In the beginning, he nearly wipes the stage with Christopher, who enters with his back to the audience and doesn’t seem to know that he’s being radically upstaged. Fortunately, there’s genius in that approach to playing Morton, who never seems to care what we think of him. Porter demands our attention, Christopher earns it in a slow-burn performance that ends in Morton’s grand self-immolation.

Review Roundup: JELLY'S LAST JAM Opens at New York City Center Brian Scott Lipton, Theater Pizzazz: The show’s physical production is equally first-rate. Clint Ramos’ nightclub set is dominated by an art-deco style door that is both inventive and terrifying, if you look closely; its only drawback is that there may not be quite enough dance floor for this unusually large ensemble. Dede Ayite’s costumes, as is consistently the case, are both stunning and period-appropriate (although I suspect Porter’s gender-bending outfit may have come from his own closet) and Adam Honore’s lighting design truly shines brightly. (The sound design, by Megumi Katayama, does need a bit of fine-tuning.)

Review Roundup: JELLY'S LAST JAM Opens at New York City Center David Finkle, New York Stage Review: During the lengthy first act and the short second act, Morton’s biography is sketchy in large part to keep the Morton-Birkenhead songs coming—Birkenhead’s clever, often effectively boisterous lyrics neatly enhancing Morton’s irresistible melodies. One title—“That’s How You Jazz”—stands for the triumph of the others. The jazzing that prevails is infectious, especially in the ensemble numbers, although Birkenhead’s words are often lost in the exhilarating shuffle.

Review Roundup: JELLY'S LAST JAM Opens at New York City Center
Average Rating: 70.0%


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