So surprise and crossed fingers accompany the bushel of talent on display at the H&R Block City Stage at Union Station in the show After Hours. Surprise because the word on previous shows in the space has been unkind, and crossed fingers because, with a show this giddy and flavorful, one can only hope that people get down there to see it. As a friend in the next seat said, "This is pure show biz."
After Hours is a revue in the style of Ain't Misbehavin'. Where that show focused on the résumé of Fats Waller, After Hours lauds instead an era -- that of Kansas City in the 1930s. The city was known as the "Paris of the Plains," according to an essay in the program by local jazz historian Chuck Haddix, who notes that it wasn't the boulevards or fountains that brought that moniker (though they are mentioned in the show) but "the intemperate nightlife."
"If you want to see some sin, forget Paris and go to Kansas City," Edward R. Murrow wrote in the Omaha World Herald. Unless the drinking of ersatz liquor is offensive (the show is set in a bar), the show isn't sinful at all. But it is kind of racy and sexy, notably when the zaftig Sharon Thompson reprises the nasty Julia Lee song, "Snatch and Grab It," which could be about love but isn't.
The stars are Lonnie and Ronnie McFadden, who present a triple threat by singing like birds, dancing like bacon on a griddle, and blowing horns to rouse the dead. In the show's highlight, they head up a jam session that begins abstractly and grows in intensity and melody. If it was improvised, it was brilliant. If it was composed, there's no less praise for it. They're my new favorite performers.
Dr. Ronnell Bright is the musical director at the piano. His own composition, "Kansas City's My Beat," bears a place of honor next to Lieber and Stoller's "Kansas City" in the local archives. Donivan Bailey (who has the best smile of the summer) plays drums, and Dwight E. Foster effortlessly jumps from bass to saxophone to guitar.
Geneva Price piles on the melancholy with such laments as "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" and "Willow Weep for Me." The latter is sung from a barstool, and the last note is followed by a mournful sip of something spirited. This is the soundtrack of the last call at the end of many a bar. Yet she also gets to be frisky with "A Tisket, A Tasket."
Dustin Sparks is credited with production and direction, and he has done something exceedingly right here. There have been reports that he has been lost at sea with previous projects at Union Station, but After Hours is sweet redemption.
It would be nice to have writing credits applied to the numbers. And there's really no story; the book stops with performers telling one another "... and here's a song you'd like." But a revue is not a musical and too much book can get bulky. This one's about placement: musicians and singers plopped down in a nightclub ... After Hours. No crime in that when those who get plopped are this exciting.
at the H&R Block City Stage at Union Station