In this semi-post-COVID-19 time, most people are more than ready to get “back to normal” as soon as possible. The opportunity to safely socialize, be entertained and just have a good time is indeed compelling.
Theatre is the ideal venue for this to be realized and the D.C. area is blessed to have the perfect opportunity to experience this renascence. The Anacostia Playhouse in Ward 8 in Southeast is reopening with a production of “A Snowy Nite in the Dew Drop Inn.”
I attended the opening night on Saturday, not knowing what to expect as I was unfamiliar with the piece.
Wow, wasn’t I in for a delightful surprise. It is not a play but rather an energetic, entertaining musical revue in the manner of, “Ain’t Misbehaving.”
The stellar cast is an ensemble of three male and three female performers (Marcel Miller, Robert Person, Fashad Tyler, Ayanna Hardy, Sherice Payne and Yvette Spears) and a musical trio (William Knowles – Music Director and Piano, Michael Fitzhugh – Trumpet and Mark Saltman – Bass).
Like similarly-themed productions, there is no distinct plot or storyline but rather a quixotic sampling of some of the best jazz, blues and be-bop music in America’s history.
The selected music gives various points of view on love, loss, pain, sorrow, redemption and joy. Listening to the vocally accomplished artists allows one to take a trip down memory lane recalling when you first heard some of the songs as well and how they may have applied to your life because of the universality of the messages.
The song list is represented by signature performances by the likes of Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Ruth Brown, Eartha Kitt, Etta James, Deacon Jones, Louis Jourdan, Charles Brown and The Dominoes, just to name a few.
The scene is actually set in the theatre lobby where above the theater entrance is a constructed representation of the actual entrance into the Dew Drop Inn (a very clever lead-in).
Once in the theater, the stage is set to actually give you the feeling of being in a jazz club or bistro. You don’t feel like you’re in an audience but actually at the club grooving!
There is no intermission, so it’s a nonstop hullaballoo of soul-stirring music and foot-stomping, engaging interplay between the players, cleverly choreographed by Shawna Williams given the limited amount of space.
The cast is uniformly entertaining but standouts include: Sherrice Payne’s stirring rendition of, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” popularized by Nancy Wilson; Yvette Spears’ rich, contralto take on, “This Bitter Earth,” popularized by Dinah Washington and Robert Person and Fashad Tyler’s unusual, male version of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” best known as a Billie Holiday staple.
The audience was rapt with enjoyment and responded heartily to certain telling moments in many of the songs. This presentation is highly engaging whether you are familiar with the music or not.
This memorable evening of this delightful, good time was put together and ably directed by Artistic Director Stephawn Stephens, who in his program notes made a special acknowledgment to James Foster, a D.C. native and current New York-based-actor, for the conception of the production in 2007 (originally titled “J’s Juke Joint”).
This show will cure whatever blues you are currently experiencing and will lift you up with joy and celebration. Get to the Anacostia Playhouse for a spirit-uplifting experience.
The show runs through January 9, 2022.