|Michela Marino Lerman and Joseph Wiggan in This Joint is Jumpin’
Photo credit: Darren Bell
This Joint is Jumpin’
(The Other Palace. 6th April 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
The opening was a surprise. The joint was…tapping. Before we hear a single note of music in This Joint is Jumpin’ we see two tap-dancers happily hoofing it, and it is they who set this “theatrical fusion of live jazz, tap dance, and storytelling” in motion. The evening’s very strong backbone is seventeen songs and tunes by Fats Waller. Essentially, Joint is a music-and-dance revue, these great and immortal songs providing the pretext for all kinds of excursions, solo turns, and some rather laboured plot twists. That said, it is an energetic, fast-paced, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable show performed by a committed, happy and well-rehearsed cast.
The prominence of the tap-dancing might well be explained by the fact that one of the roles of producer Hoagy B Carmichael (yes, son of, and the B stands for Bix) was co-founder of the American Tap Dance Foundation. The two dancers Michela Marino Lerman and Joseph Wiggan are very good indeed, and – as my companion reminded me – there must be a lot more people in the world who like tap dance routines more than – say – drum solos.
Musically, standards are very high. French-Malagasy pianist Mathis Picard is a young player whose interesting path has already taken him from France via Chetham’s in Manchester to Juilliard, the Montreux Foundation and the Marsalis/ Lincoln Center set-up. The Musical Director credit goes to Michael Mwenso, for whom this is a very welcome return to London. He is a live-wire performer who has thoroughly absorbed a range of vocal styles from Joe Williams and Clark Terry “Mumbles” to the present day. His solo feature Truckin’ was one of the highlights of the show. He also harmonized deftly with promising light-voiced highly musical young South African Vuyo Sotashe. The other main singer was Lillias White a vastly experienced performer. Her sassy Keepin’ Out of Mischief complete with high kicks, and her emotionally wrenching What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue? were worth the price of the ticket on their own.
Those expecting period jazz, or historically informed performance practice will find the R&B melisma off-putting; stylistically the arrangements of Fats Waller songs are often seen through the prism of Motown and Stevie Wonder – or in one case Marty Paich cool – and are all the more enjoyable for it. The jazz playing is not rooted in the twenties either; Ruben Fox deployed his slinky chromatic improvisation language to good effect. The other musicians all made good contributions. Mark Kavuma plays clean lines, and drummer Kyle Poole was brilliant at all that stop-chorusing, starting and stopping with clear crisp cues and innate timing and theatricality.
The plot twists in the show are from the Janet-and-John school of keeping the action going, with people running on with urgent letters and a rather odd story about a call on a mobile phone from an agent; I suspect that by the end of the run the cast will have found entertaining ways to ironize them. Desiree Burch as Sammy Slyde kept that side of the evening in motion, but it still needs work.
The studio theatre of The Other Palace (known as St James Theatre until being taken over by Lloyd Weeber’s Really Useful group) is a close-up and intimate venue, and the proximity and authenticity of the action are also a big plus.