Sophisticated Ladies – Reviews
Chicago Tribune – Chris Jones
FOUR OUT OF FOUR STARS
NOT TO BE MISSED…DYNAMIC…JOYOUS AND THRILLING
You have to be able to evoke the Cotton Club and the Newport Jazz Festival, the scared and titillating, the sentimental, the sophisticated and the indigo of mood. All are legitimately Dukish, and all are handled superbly here by [Donica] Lynn and [Molly] Kral.
But this is not a concert, despite the front-and-center presence of the musical director (and jazz pianist) Jermaine Hill, whose musicians have been freed from the acoustically problematic side galleries at the Ruth Page Arts Center and instead allowed to sit, big-band style, on the stage. This also is a dance show, especially when you are looking at the conjoined work of two different choreographers. Actually, it is more of a dance show than it needs to be, maybe, but the movement here is a joyous and thrillingly executed expansion of what you might be expecting.
This fast-paced, just-can’t-stop production features a cast of 15 singers and dancers, plus seven musicians, for a total company numbering 22, as led by the impeccably suave Donterrio Johnson with an assist from Lorenzo Rush, Jr.
The designer, Theresa Ham, unspools a riot of color and the company makes sure it never remains still.
One other note here: There is a palpable sense of racial unity in this show, of partnership, of sharing, of tolerance, of mutual caring and belonging. The Duke would have loved everything about that feeling.
WVON-AM – Art “Chat Daddy” Sims
ENERGIZING FROM BEGINNING TO END!
WTTW – Hedy Weiss
A KNOCKOUT REVIVAL … THAT COULD EASILY BE AIRLIFTED ONTO A NEW YORK STAGE WITHOUT A SINGLE ALTERATION.
Note to Broadway (and other commercial producers), wherever you may be: A knockout revival of “Sophisticated Ladies” – the musical revue of Duke Ellington classics originally conceived by Donald McKayle and only rarely revived since its Broadway debut in 1981 – is now burning up the stage of the Ruth Page Center for the Arts courtesy of a Porchlight Music Theatre production that could easily be airlifted onto a New York stage without a single alteration.
So, come and see it if you can. And let the blazing talent of its multitalented, 15-person Chicago-based cast, the ingenious work of its co-director/choreographers Brenda Didier and Florence Walker Harris, the irresistible swing of its jazz-centric band under the splendid music direction of pianist Jermaine Hill, the elegance of Angela Weber Miller’s black-and-white art deco set, the glittery beauty of Theresa Ham’s costumes and the impeccable sound design of Robert Hornbostel convince you that this show deserves a life that extends far beyond its current stage
Throughout, the genius and range of Ellington’s music is amplified by the sheer polish, playfulness and electricity of this production. It is, in the words of master lyricist Billy Strayhorn, “Something to Live For.”
PICTURETHISPOST.com – Alexis Bugaski
ONE BIG CELEBRATORY PARTY
Sophisticated Ladies kicks off with a bang, and keeps the energy flowing the whole show.
Dancing is in no short supply here. There’s tap dancing, swing dancing, and even some solo interpretive dance to slow things down a bit.
When they all come together for the show stopper, It Don’t Mean a Thing, we feel like we stepped right into the glitz and glam of the jazz age. Dresses are sparkling. Suits are freshly pressed. The kickline is swingin’, and the music is coming to a crescendo
The energy is infectious as they dance. It feels like we’re at one big celebratory party.
PICKSINSIX – Ed Tracy
A SINGING, SWINGING SENSATION
“Expertly directed and choreographed by Brenda Didier and Florence Walker-Harris, Porchlight’s “Sophisticated Ladies” is a singing, swinging sensation that flies by in a breezy two hours with glitz, vitality and panache.”
“Musical director Jermaine Hill rips up the score with a seven-piece band from his lofty perch at a swanky white grand piano.”
ChicagoTheatreReview.com – Colin Douglas
THERE’S JUST NOT ENOUGH SUPERLATIVES IN THE DICTIONARY TO DO JUSTICE TO THIS WONDERFUL, PROFESSIONALLY POLISHED PRODUCTION
“How long has it been since you’ve attended a musical production and wished you could simply press a magic replay button and immediately see it all over again? Well, this is that show. Don’t let this one pass you by because there’s just not enough superlatives in the dictionary to do justice to this wonderful, professionally polished production. It’s that good!”
The velvety lush score is lovingly brought to life by gifted pianist and musical director, Jermaine Hill.
The production has been beautifully co-directed and co-choreographed by the exquisite, multi Award-winning team of Brenda Didier and Florence Walker-Harris
There isn’t a better ensemble of singers and dancers in Chicago, perhaps in the entire nation!
Artistic Director Michael Weber must be bursting with pride. Everyone connected with this ravishing, radiant musical revue should start dusting off their shelves right now, because there’s bound to be a slew of honors and awards bestowed upon this talented cast and crew come next Fall. Here in Chicago, at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, is an absolute must-see,
Broadway caliber production that will warm these cold winter nights with the delectable music of Duke Ellington. Hit Me With a Hot Note, indeed!
BroadwayWorld.com – Rachel Weinberg
Duke Ellington’S SOPHISTICATED LADIES is a classic Porchlight show: an ebullient musical revue showcasing both the esteemed song catalog of Duke Ellington and also the formidable talents of some of the city’s finest musical theater performers.
SOPHISTICATED LADIES is a production immense in its capacity to entertain.
The choreography incorporates a delectable amount of tap and swing dancing, with a number of gymnastics-like feats included.
Porchlight’s staging of Duke Ellington’S SOPHISTICATED LADIES showcases the company’s essence in many ways, and it will undoubtedly leave audiences in a swinging and singalong mood.
AroundTheTownChicago.com – Al Bresloff
FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
A SPECTACLE FOR THE EYE AND EARS
“high stepping, great music and dancing that will get you up in your seats.”
“a spectacle for the eyes and the ears.”
“some of the best tap dancers I have ever witnessed on one stage.”
ThirdCoastReview.com – Bob Benenson
YOU SHOULD GO…IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE HAVING MORE FUN
If you love the music of the jazz and big band eras, you should go. If you love beautiful voices that hit the high and low notes, and have the scat singing of Duke’s era down, you should go. If you like dancing—tap, line, swing—you should go. And OK, Millennial, if you don’t know if you love all of the above, you should go anyway, because it’s a great way to find out if you’ve got that swing.
the show underscores is the amazing collection of talent we have in this city. Porchlight is one of Chicago’s many equivalents of off-Broadway (off-Randolph?) companies that provide star turns for performers who are talented enough to be playing bigger stages. The night was highlighted by the octave-leaping vocals and versatility of female leads Lydia Burke, Molly Krol and Donica Lynn. Lorenzo Rush Jr., a large man with a booming yet nuanced voice, owned the stage during several numbers; John Marshall Jr., the custodian-turned-hoofer, made the most of his time in the spotlight.
As enjoyable as the performers are, though, this is one show that might not mean a thing if it doesn’t set the scene. Scenic designer Angela Weber Miller’s bi-level, art deco set, with steps on both sides for the dancers to scamper about, does just that. Theresa Ham’s costume design is a fantasia of sequins, feathers, three-piece suits, paisley vests, and of course, a singer dolled up in satin. Denise Karczewski’s lighting design was especially enhancing during a couple of literally smoky numbers.
It’s early, and I may see a better show this year, but it’s hard to imagine having more fun.
Stage and Cinema – Larry Bommer
THE HOTTEST NIGHT A WINTER EVER ASKED FOR
Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Chicago’s state-of-any-art Porchlight Music Theatre is reviving this revue in a powerfully perfect staging directed and choreographed by the phenomenal Brenda Didier and Florence Walker-Harris. The dancing alone — tap, jitterbug, lindy hop, boogie-woogie — is sufficient draw. The songs, marvelously matched in mood or melody, seal the deal.
It’s two hours of sterling showbiz, the hottest night a winter ever asked for.
Let’s Play at ChicagoNow – Rick and Brenda McCain
PORCHLIGHT HITS THE MARK WITH THIS DAZZLING PERFORMANCE
Sophisticated Ladies, which doesn’t have the usual storyline, is elegant and wildly entertaining as it displays the diverse personas of Duke’s style throughout the evening.
Sophisticated Ladies is breathtaking to look upon with its costumes that will take you straight to the roaring twenties. Theresa Ham showcases the Renaissance era perfectly with stunning ensembles with lots of glitz and glamour and sparkling flapper dresses and tuxedos.
Sophisticated Ladies is a musical thrill ride complete with exceptional dance performances that will have you tapping and doing the Lindy Hop in your seats.
Buzz Center Stage – Bill Eisler
A MUSICAL CONFECTION
In the hands of Porchlight Music Theatre, it is a production of brilliant technical skill in dance, music, costumes, set.
Scene after scene finds a fresh vision of another Ellington work, as torch songs with ballet accompaniment, emotional duets, dance and tap performances, full-blown song and dance numbers, with continuous costume changes that were mind-blowing (credit Theresa Ham).
So many performers cross the line into greatness during Sophisticated Ladies, but standouts are singers Lydia Burke, Molly Kral, and Donica Lynn (playing Chanteus she is the lead scat singer), with Lorenzo Rush, Jr.’s rich baritone a continuous delight. Dancer and singer John Marshall turned in a most charming performance, especially in the 1941 novelty song “Bli Blip,” with Molly Kral. (It’s a mid-century modern gem.) And there are dancers who just jump out from the chorus line – Joey Stone, Tristan Bruns, Terri Woodall and Shantell Cribbs. Guess I should just name the whole cast.
Chicagoland Musical Theater – Patrick O’Brien
SUPERB…INCOMPARABLE…MISS IT, AND YOU’LL HAVE IT BAD, AND THAT AIN’T GOOD.
It’s Porchlight and it’s a Duke Ellington revue. Who wouldn’t go in expecting superb interpretations of some of the most superb American music of the twentieth century?
there’s a cast of nearly 20; a hep band led by the incomparable Jermaine Hill in white tie and tails; and Angela Weber Miller‘s set’s got enough sweeping staircases, crystal sconces and backlit Art Deco geometries to make a jazz hipster envious.
Director/Choreographers Brenda Didier and Florence Walker Harris to set the stage a-swingin’ afresh here in Chicago.
NewCity – Amanda Finn
BUT THIS ISN’T A CONCERT. IT’S AN EXPERIENCE
Revues don’t always make for great theater. In fact, they often don’t. They’re usually a hodgepodge of someone’s favorite music slapped into some costumes and presented as a concert. But this isn’t a concert. It’s an experience.
Complete with showstopping costumes by Theresa Ham (seriously where can I get some of that shiny firework fabric?!) and impeccable performances directed/choreographed by Brenda Didier and Florence Walker-Harris, Porchlight Music Theatre’s “Sophisticated Ladies” is phenomenal.
Musically transporting us back to the age of the great band leaders are a host of iconic voices madefor this kind of jazz. You’ve got The Danseuse (Lydia Burke), The Jazzbo (Donterrio Johnson), The Soubrette (Molly Kral), The Chanteuse (Donica Lynn) and The Raconteur (Lorenzo Rush Jr.) all throwing their hearts into the rafters. From Lynn’s gift for scat to Rush’s velvety vocals, this revue’s musicality is on point.
Not only are these dancers engaging, they’re also multi-faceted: tapping, flipping, Charleston-ing and more. This ensemble is breathtaking. None more so than Terri K. Woodall whose interpretive dance to Burke crooning “Solitude” will break your heart.