BWW Review: With OLD DAWG; NEW TRICKS Andre De Shields Shakes Up The Lincoln Center American Songbook With Songs & Stories From The Book Of Jelly
Heigh-Ho, My Merry Rainbow Tribe! Bobby Patrick your RAINBOW Reviewer here. Putting the silent T in CABARET (and Sometimes in ConcerT) to bring you all the T. This time for a concert - FANCY!
Alright, my rainbow tribe, let's get this out of the way right up front: Andre De Shields just had his 74th birthday. He told us this himself near the end of his earth-shattering Lincoln Center American Songbook performance of Andre De Shields: OLD DAWG; NEW TRICKS on Wednesday night. A survivor of the business of show, the fight for civil rights and the worst years of our ONGOING HIV crisis, De Shields said, in his Queeroes interview with Naveen Kumar: "Death knocked on my door many times. And what I learned then, and continue to do now in those moments of mortality, is invite Death in. 'Sit down. Let's have a cup of tea. Let's have a chat. Why are you here?' 'Oh,' Death would respond, 'Oh, I thought you might be ready to go.' 'Go where?' And then ultimately, at the end of the conversation, Death would have to back off, because I wasn't playing that easy game." With a power behind his performance that completely defies his years, his struggles and his slight, slight frame, La Andre took the Stage Holding his first note on LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL for a full 23 seconds, on a single breath: a thrilling moment coming from his still powerful, sharp trumpet of a voice. In his Scafati Couture gold lame suit, fire-engine red shirt and silver boots this "Old black man," as he referred to himself, jumped, jammed and jived across that stage going from Doo Wop City to Funky town, and that was just his opening sequence.
Patting a large leather-looking binder on a music stand, ADS let the audience know that the reading for the night's services (for it all felt like a religious experience) would come from The Book Of Jelly, Jelly having been a childhood family nickname given to him during a phase of overeating that gave him a belly he has not sported in a very long time. Combining material from his previous work, CONFESSIONS OF A PIMP, with loads of new material from his own pen -- most of which was written in a complicated verse form of his own that matches his beautifully florid speaking style, one has to grant a pass on our customary disapproval about performers reading their shows to us. In the context of his long narrative tone poem of life, the expert use of his book, plus his connection to all watching, Mr. De Shields gave the entire evening a gorgeous feeling of moving between a poetry reading and a poetry SLAM! Paying homage to his mother's dancing, his father's singing, and those gifts that were given to him, ADS tells of the heartache and triumph of fulfilling for them their "Dreams Deferred." With rock, blues, jazz, and funk pouring from the stage, each audience member had their own versions of chair dancing, coupled with some praise shoutings and hands lifted heavenward. The services filled all with The Spirit.
Each chapter of his reading was divided by the simple phrase "Gimme a beat" followed by one of the excellent musicians* on stage granting access to the music for their maestro and his acolytes. As his story unfolded more and more Mr. De Shields laid out the tale of an unabashedly original child whose father called him "Fancy Dan" and who grew up to be a true pioneer. This was a piece of theater set to music that told the audience a life story filled with struggle, triumph, pain, and reward, taking all on a journey that didn't stop in it's flow from chapter to chapter and never pandered to ANYONE. Andre De Shields' tale, voice, and performance demanded our intelligence and our sophistication as his audience and rewarded our attention with an adventure laced with naughty... bawdy... whimsy. This evening of musical theater was designed to surprise and make us gasp, and to celebrate being alive, honey! His rendition of Dennis Andreopoulos' I'M A WALKING TIME BOMB into which he filtered his ode to people he knew and loved and lost to AIDS and the silence and ignorance at the core of this epidemic that came free of charge is a difficult, stirring and most honorable Book Of The Dead in JAZZ. As each of the people he named lost their battles, he moved on ever toward the life ahead of him, always ready to invite Death to tea... briefly, but never to stay.
Ever expertly supported by his long-time friends and collaborators - his RhinestoneRockStarBoogieWoogieDollBabies Frieda Williams and CATS veteran (all 18 years of it) Marlene Danielle as his back up singers, La De Shields and friends truly made the Appel Room a temple of the performing arts. Giving his crowd a touch of HADES, he included the marvelous IF IT'S TRUE WHAT THEY SAY, and wrapped the whole evening up in love by singing his own L-O-V-E, and the audience gave it all right back. The entire 90 minutes of theatre never waned, never bored, and uplifted all listeners with a story of real triumph of the spirit. One would hope that Andre De Shields: OLD DAWG; NEW TRICKS would find the theatrical life it deserves beyond this one concert. The story of JELLY and what has become of him is not just one for all, but one for the ages and it is this little "Fancy Dan's" hope that a smart producer will pick it up and put it down somewhere we can all gather and praise together AND for all of those incredible feels, Bobby gives Andre De Shields: OLD DAWG; NEW TRICKS 6 out of our Usual 5 Rainbows.
* Attention must be paid to other exceptional people on stage with Mr. D
Liam Robinson - Keys/Conductor/Arranger
Michael Chorney - Guitar
Cody Owen Stine - Organ/Guitar
Dan Rieser - Drums
Brad Christopher Jones - Bass
Patience Higgins - All The Reeds
Curtis Fowlkes - Trombone
ALSO - Check Out The Most Inspiring Tony Acceptance Speech EVER: HERE
** Photos By Lia Chang