It’s 1926. You are at the Lyric Theater in New Orleans. You are in for an evening of boogie, jazziness, and infectious grooves. You’ll feel those grooves in your bones. The music starts and you move and groove all night long to the bouncy tunes.
One Mo’ Time at Anacostia Playhouse is a recreation of such an evening. Director E. Faye Butler described this musical revue as “a journey into the world of black performers of the 1920s. A day in the life of an acting troupe of performers living on the road.”
This 2002 revival is based on the Vernel Martin Bagneris play. Bagneris, a New Orleans–based actor, wrote the musical book. Lars Edegran and Orange Kellin arranged the music. Butler’s direction of One Mo’ Time has more soul than you can control.
Music Director Micah Robinson led the band to the musical Promised Land. Jared Bailey and Jeremiah Flack stood out on trumpet. The rest of the tuxedo-wearing band consisted of pianist Deandre Blalock, bassist Joseph Chisholm, and drummer Etienne Lashley. Robinson’s direction of the score will leave your ears steamed and dry-cleaned of the worries of your day.
The band got to play a few of the tunes without vocals. I loved their renditions of “Overture: Darktown Strutters Ball” and the upbeat “Tiger Rag.”
Jordan Daugherty choreographed moves like the Charleston, a 1920s dance named after Charleston, South Carolina. That dance featured rag-doll-like moves.
The show is a revue — a mix of song, dance, and sketches — and hence has the barest plot. The four fictional performers bickered with each other. They fussed about their contract with the Lyric Theater’s management between songs. New Orleans’ Lyric Theater was the largest venue for Black Vaudeville in the 1920s and such bickering most likely would have been common. Black performers of that day had to navigate segregation laws and other racial dynamics.
Jacquelyn Hawkins played the commanding troupe leader Bertha. Briona Jackson, Gaddiel Adams, and Baakari Wilder played singers Thelma, Ma Reed, and Papa Du respectively. Sam Fromkin played the theater owner.
Jackson and Adams are alumnae of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Wilder and Fromkin are both making their Anacostia Playhouse debut. Hawkins is making her third appearance there.
Jackson gave Thelma a lush voice in songs such as “I’ve Got What It Takes” and “He’s Funny That Way.” Thelma had tension with Bertha because she sang “her” song “Kiss Me Sweet.”
Because of a contract stipulation for an exotic dancer, Thelma/Jackson wore a ridiculous straw-skirt get-up in “Everybody Loves My Baby.” Costume Designer Salim Luqman made the costume look ridiculous. Many of Luqman’s costumes for the women featured sequins.
Luqman put Wilder’s Papa Du in a top hat in his blackface number, “He’s in the Jailhouse Now.” For that song, Papa Du wore white makeup on his lips and waved a Confederate flag, perhaps as a way to placate what must have been a mostly white audience.
As Butler explained, “White performers had begun wearing black face as a means to take work away from black performers. The T.O.B.A. (Theatre Owners Booking Association) booked black acts to perform in their theaters for both black and white audiences on separate days sometimes or seating where blacks were in the upper balconies.”
Wilder had a good duet in “What It Takes to Bring You Back” with Hawkins’ Bertha, who also excelled in the outrageous “Kitchen Man.” Filled with naughty double entendres, “Kitchen Man” addressed Bertha’s admiration of a lover.
Adams dazzled in a red dress in “Black Bottom” as Ma Reed. That song, also the name of a dance from that era, captured the spirit of the 1920s. She powerfully piped “After You’ve Gone.”
The cast as a whole made me tap my feet to the churchy tune “Hot Times in the Ole Town Tonight” and “Wait Till You See My Baby Do the Charleston.” Choreographer Daugherty and the actors tied it all together.
Fromkin’s theater-owner character was relegated to being the butt of verbal attacks from Bertha. Before curtain, he also told the audience in character to silence things “that ring.”
Megan Holden’s set design was a study in effective simplicity. There was a dressing room house left, complete with an empty frame as a mirror, and instruments for the band house right. There were black-and-white photos of jazz performers on the wall, hinting at the fact that such luminaries as Ethel Waters, Sammy Davis Jr., Count Basie, the Nicholas Brothers, and Cab Calloway emerged from Black Vaudeville, which had its heyday from the 1880s to the 1930s.
Director Butler has crafted a rousing love letter to the roaring 1920s. Though it was not perfect — many lyrics were drowned out by the music — it kept the audience entertained and earned a standing ovation. If you see it, you’ll be in for an evening of music and history.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
One Mo’ Time
By Vernel Bagneris
Book by Vernel Bagneris
Music arranged by Lars Edegran and Orange Kellin
Briona Jackson: Cast as Thelma
Gaddiel Adams: Cast as Ma Reed
Jacquelyn Hawkins: Cast as Bertha
Baakari Wilder: Cast as Papa Du
Sam Fromkin: Cast as John Stell
Director: E. Faye Butler
Music Director: Micah Robinson
Choreographer: Jordan Daugherty
Costume Designer: Luqman Salim
Set Designer: Megan Holder
Dramaturg: Ambree Feaster
Production Manager: Stephawn Stephens
Stage Manager: Angela Gilliam
Light Designer: Jerrett Harrington
Set Builder: Jeff Johnson
Props Master: Roo Sultan
Set Painter: Yaritza Pachero
Sound Board Operator: Oba Harris
Runner: Debkarya M.