The infectious swing and sizzling jazz of Duke Ellington have never been more appealing than in “Sophisticated Ladies,” the irresistible revue now playing at Pioneer Theatre Company.
Revues are a risky business. Without a storyline or the actual presence of the performer or songwriter being spotlighted, even audiences who like the subject may get restless after a while.
“Sophisticated Ladies” flies over this hurdle by maintaining a fast pace, a short running time and enough joyous singing and dancing to satisfy anyone.
The cast includes six back-up singers and six leads, all mixing and matching and singing and dancing in various combinations, working through such great songs as “Hit Me with a Hot Note,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Sophisticated Lady.”
Chaundra Cameron plays the role of the Chanteuse (that’s as close to character names as the show gets) like a powerhouse, belting out “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “I’m Checking out” with the outstanding talent and attitude of a diva. She earned the noisiest ovation opening night.
Allyson Tucker (the Danceuse) does a heart-melting “In My Solitude” and “In a Sentimental Mood,” the latter while wearing a stunning dress with a train that cascades down the staircase at center stage. (In fact, all the costumes, by Susan Branch, are outstanding in this show.)
I also quite liked David Jackson as the Raconteur, often paired with the Danceuse. As the Soubrette, Jeni Carver doesn’t have the panache of the rest of the cast; the voice is there, but the soul is not.
Carver comes into her own, though, in the second-act “Imagine My Frustration,” where she assumes the role of a nerdy girl wishing she’d be asked to dance. It’s a highly comical scene, demonstrating the range of the actors, not to mention the imagination of director/choreographer Patti D’Beck.
The live band — which is fantastic, by the way — often overpowered the singers, even though they all had microphones; one presumes this was merely an opening-night glitch and was not intentional.
Should you go? Most certainly. Great music, great singing, great dancing — what more could you ask for?