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Review: Support Cultural Improvisation at Interact's Sensational HOT FUNKY BUTT JAZZ

Review: Support Cultural Improvisation at Interact's Sensational HOT FUNKY BUTT JAZZ
Hitting the High Notes at Interact's
Photo Credit: Interact

In a spectacular evening celebrating the performing arts and jazz, Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts premiered their annual musical "Hot Funky Butt Jazz" in the Guthrie Theater's Dowling Studio The no intermission production carries three wishes for cultural improvisation on the magic of the show's narrator, a voodoo mama, Marie LaVeau. In the process of performing, Interact fulfilled their mission to present the capabilities of artists with disabilities, including mental and physical challenges, to participate in every art form, including theater. This mission impacts the 50 plus cast members included in "Hot Funky Butt Jazz," a tribute to the dance hall where jazz originated in the mercurial city of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century.

From the beginning of the production, where a funeral parade sets off a series of flashbacks that Marie LaVeau orchestrates, the audience discovers Storyville. A makeshift and down trodden New Orleans neighborhood where musicians play into the late hours of the evening while rivaling brothels tempt musicians and inhabitants. Here, African Americans living in the Jim Crow era played their 'new fangled' music featuring a collaboration of cultural rhythms, where the Funky Butt dance hall incubated the innovative sound surrounded by numerous rundown bars.

Privileged white American congregations collided with the lively Gospel message and music from the diverse ethnic population in New Orleans bordering Storyville at the time. Even the African American churches in those early 1900's decades originally decried what became known as 'jazz'---at first, an evil, a sin, another reason to put down African Americans and their culture. Marie LaVeau conjures three wishes throughout the performance for those in the audience that speaks to the music's memories: to remember the souls of the past, find happiness in life while we're alive, and then offer a glittering hope for the future.

A trio of New Orleans musicians anchor the musical history: Zena Moses plays voodoo queen and narrator, Marie LaVeau. Jeremy Phipps portrays Stringbean Russell, and Eugene Harding reminisces Zutty MacNeil. The last two musicians perform on trombone and drums throughout the show. These three inhabit the black box stage and music with a sensual charm and confidence, making the audience clap hands or sway in their seats. In addition, Moses' son, five and a half year old Messiah Moses Albert, steals numerous scenes playing a young Louis Armstrong. Armstrong grew up in the Storyville neighborhood, learning and living with several relatives and those first jazz musicians, including Billy Bolden.

According to jazz history, Bolden created a preeminent chord titled "the big four," or what was considered the first syncopated bars for bass drum, percussion, that deviated from the standard march, which is acclaimed today. Here, among these foremost leaders of this burgeoning American music tradition, Louis was given his first trumpet at an early age, sitting on the outskirts of church and dance halls, even brothels, while often wandering into trouble with the police who enforced the Jim Crow laws. While many of those original laws have been challenged and removed, their ghosts live on in the present day similar to Armstrong's incredible legacy and spirit. As one phrase from a song reads: "While under one sky, under one roof, we play the same songs, only different melodies."

Jeanne Calvit directs a huge cast with divergent abilities amid this sensual music--a special brand of voodoo magic as well. Audiences appreciate the delight on the faces of the performers on stage, where Spanish Moss hangs from a wire strung ceiling. In numerous show stopping numbers, composed and written with music and lyrics by Aaron Gabriel, the cast excels. These include "Afternoon Tea," "Small Time Vaudeville," "Sin in Sin-copation," and a haunting "Mista Jim Crow." The last song sparks the stereotypes African Americans were subjected too, which will then be counteracted by the vibrant dance rhythms in a reprise of "Let The Music Do Ya,"-a tribute to the syncopated jazz rhythms and their joyful vitality. The musical beautifully touches on these social issues while instilling a love for jazz.

Several other notable performances include Carla Pierson portraying the neighborhood deacon and her righteous message of saving grace. Ivory Doublette gives Mme. (Mama) May Moreuax a elegant grandeur for this brothel owner. A young prostitute, Dabby Cole, acted by Kymani Kahill, reminds the audience to remember their names from this era in Storyville, their souls, so there will be a future filled with hope. Numerous other performers created this sensational performance, each a delight to watch.

More significantly, Interact plans to raise $100,000 by January 1st to promote the important work Interact accomplishes every year, supporting over 70 artists and those with special challenges in the visual and performing arts. One other important goal for the organization would be to take this premiere production and professionally tweak the musical for a tour to promote Interact's mission and message---the music together with the three wishes from the show. In the spirit of keeping these concerns and music alive during the current era of cultural turmoil, Interact also passes on the legacy and tradition of jazz. To assist in achieving these goals, Interact will also sponsor "Hot Funky Butt Juke Joint" on November 11 at Butcher and the Boar from 3:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Currently, the sensational musical "Hot Funky Butt Jazz," plays through November 18 at the Dowling Studio on the 9th floor of the Guthrie Theater. With approximately 190 seats in the black box space almost sold out, please contact the Guthrie Theater box office for certain availability. Otherwise, visit Interact, or attend their upcoming Juke Joint and experience remembering the souls of the past, the happiness of the present and the hopes for the future.

For further information, please contact the Guthrie Theater at or Interact at 651.209.3675 and

From This Author - Peggy Sue Dunigan

Peggy Sue Dunigan earned a BA in Fine Art, a MA in English and then finished with a Masters of Fine Art in Creative Fiction from Pine Manor College, Massachusetts. Currently she independently write... (read more about this author)