Hugh Jackman and wife Deborra Lee Furness, famed pop singer Darlene Love, Mary Louise Parker, and R&B star Freddie Jackson were just a few of the celebs in the star studded audience last night for the opening of “After Midnight.” The jukebox jazz show stars Fantasia Barrino– yes, Fantasia from “American Idol”– in the show that may establish her once and for all as the leading vocalist of her generation. With an incredible cast of dancers and singers including Dule Hill (the star of TV’s Psych) and the amazing Adriane Lenox, “After Midnight” is an authentic, organic pleasure.
There’s no story– it’s just a night at the Cotton Club in the early 1920s, with great costumes and sets, and one performer after another wowing the crowd. The Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars — organized and directed by Wynton Marsalis– comprise the Big Band, and they are on stage all night as part of the cast. Believe me, the instrumental numbers with just dancers like the incomparable Karine Plantadit and Jared Grimes, which mix ballet and tap, are knockouts. There’s also a not to be missed set up between Julius “iGlide” Chisolm and Virgil “Lil O” Gadson — you’ve got to see these guys mix it up.
But the spotlight is on Fantasia, whose numbers include “Stormy Weather,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and a show stopping “Zaz Zuh Zaz.” Fantasia has now matured beyond her “Summertime”-“American Idol”– and hip hop albums of the last couple of years. This is her groove, and I hope she knows it. She is literally channeling and updating Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. She is so the real thing. There must be a market for this in a world of crass, amusical pop ( you know who I mean). And she’s only going to get better with age.
“After Midnight” should be the go-to show this winter– 90 minutes, and total joy. Fantasia is set to leave in February, but maybe she’ll decide to stay. If not, the producers had better see if they can get Natalie Cole or Gladys Knight. We don’t want this show to go away any time soon!