Josh Rittberg

Arts and Culture Editor

            The Fulton’s newest dance spectacular, Sophisticated Ladies, transports its audiences back into the sensual and sensational world of Duke Ellington’s jazz age. The show begins with a magnetic blast of sound from the orchestra and with a drop of a curtain, the audience is suddenly flooded with a calvacade of bright colors and movement. The cast vividly recreates the Big Band sound and spirit of the famed composer. This show is not a book or plot driven piece, instead the pulsing movement of the dancers and incredible vocalists drive the action and create an evening of music and joy.

            This is a show where the talent is the star. This electrifying cast of fourteen throughout brings a commendable sense of showmanship with each number and a true sense of ensemble. The two divas in the show, E. Faye Butler and Felicia P. Fields, bring roof raising vocals to the toe tapping songs, “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good”, and “Mood Indigo”. Jim Hogan also croons enjoyable ballads such as in the “Sophisticated Ladies” sequence. The dancers were uniformly strong, yet some standouts include Tyler Johnson-Campion who inhabits colorful comedic characters throughout his dance, and has an infectiously gleeful spirit. Janaye’ McAlpine brings an elegant grace and class to her sequences. One of her most memorable dances,Solitude, featured McAlpine in a stunning glitter covered blue dress by Jeff Hendry that simply sparkles as this gorgeous dancer glides across the stage. Shari Williams displays an impressive athleticism and a deliciously sensual air throughout. Her muscular nature and precise movement alone is a sight to behold. Jake Corcoran also impresses with handsome looks and stunning footwork in numbers which include “I’m Just A Lucky So and So”. Individually, these dancers are very strong, yet it is when they click their heels together in the rousing act one finale, “Rockin’ In Rhythm” where this group of dancers truly soars. Their endless energy and commitment to their craft is joy inducing, and seeing these movers together is not just a jazz spectacle, but a tribute to the very art form of movement and dance itself. 

            Much with the case of the cast, the creative team on this particular production were all committed to creating a jubilant trip back to the jazz age. Marc Robin’s direction is flawless as each act smoothly transitions into the next. He also manages to have wonderful uses of storytelling through dance as seen in the New York City inspired, Harlem Suite section of the show. This style of presentation also lovingly pays tributes to the vaudeville acts of the 1920s where one entertainer followed another. As the performances go on, each act builds and builds off the last. This makes for an extremely exciting evening for the audience and performers. The cast particularly Felicia P. Fields addresses the audience often which also helps greatly in creating the interactive relationship between the performer and the audience. Much recognition must also be given to the music and dance arrangements by Llloyd Mayers. They have a crisp and fresh sound, and an exciting sweep as played by the onstage band, which is led by A. Scott Williams. Robin as a director made the smart choice of putting the band onstage which made the Ellington sound more immediate and present. The scenic, lighting and sound design by Chuck S. Kading, Jesse Klug, and Shannon Slaton respectively add greatly in bringing the audience back in time. The elegant yet simplistic club setting and adds a sense of class and atmosphere throughout the production. The vibrant lighting and clear sound also added greatly in getting the audience invested.

            The costumes by Jeff Hendry are a show on their own. With flowing gowns for the girls and fabulously flashy suites for the men, they add a sense of style for the time and a flamboyance that roots this show as a piece of theatre. Every glitter and sequin in the suits and dresses sparkles and shines as much as the actors. Hendry’s costumes take on a life on their own and pay homage to old Hollywood glamour in the “Sophisticated Ladies” number. The elegance of the time is communicated fully with dresses shimmering with sparkles as seen in Janaye’ McAlpine’s glitter-filled blue dress in the number “Solitude”. 

            This piece is very much a dance show and a celebration of the art form itself. The choreography by Kenny Ingram, Marc Robin, and Mark Stuart leaps off the stage and into the hearts of the audience. Drawing off of various styles such as tap, ballet and jazz, Inagram, Robin and Stuart create movements for their dancers that is impressively athletic yet rousing in spirit. The movement is lovingly tailored to each dancer as they each inject their own sense of flair and personality. This is dance that leaps off the stage and explodes with a dynamism and precision rarely seen on the Fulton stage. Most importantly, this is also a show that not only serves as a loving tribute to Duke Ellington, but the diversity of the human spirit as dancers and performers of various races kick up their feet and celebrate life and music together. With a stellar cast, a strong creative team, and roof-raising choreography, the Fulton’s Sophisticated Ladies is a thrilling throwback to the golden age of performance, but also a reminder of the power of dance and raw unadulterated talent.