Out at Olney, they’ve shined up their tap shoes and their glittery bowler hats, they’ve broken out the sequined vests and the boas, and—look, either you’re the target audience for an all singin’, all dancin’ revue, or you’re not.
For those up for a walk on the mild side, Eubie!, the musical tribute to Baltimore’s own ragtime and Broadway composer Eubie Blake, features nine able performers who work their way through Blake’s voluminous songbook with skits, solos, and big production numbers. Director and choreographer Tony Parise has tweaked the 1978 Broadway production’s songlist, frontloading the show with Blake’s snappier stuff and saving most of the bluesier standards for later. It’s not an ideal fuel mixture: Act One takes its time getting started, and Act Two meanders before it finally finds its hook.
That hook comes in the form of a duet (a deeply euphonious mingling of “Low Down Blues” with “Gee, I Wish I Had Someone to Rock Me in the Cradle of Love”) sung by D. William Hughes and Roz White Gonsalves, and it’s heady stuff. By the time it happens, however, the show is effectively over.
There are singers who act, and there are actors who sing, and as the show progresses, the ensemble more or less sorts itself neatly into those two categories. It’s not that there are any particularly weak voices here, it’s that some members of the cast are particularly adept at expressing a song’s meaning, while others have yet to master that delicate alchemy.
Here, as she did earlier this year in MetroStage’s Bricktop!, Gonsalves distinguishes herself. Her rendition of the potentially schticky “My Handyman Ain’t Handy Anymore” is unforced and funny, because she lets us see her discovering the song with every line. Opera-trained Loretta Giles, on the other hand, although possessed of what are probably the show’s best vocal chops, emotes the holy hell out of the torch song “Memories of You” in such a decidedly, um, operatic way that it brings the already sluggish second act to a dead stop.
The choreography is solid, but it doesn’t dazzle, and in a show like this, you really need it to. Daniel Conway’s set is an elegant creation of curved metal and art-deco archways, and it’s done great service by Charlie Morrison’s moody, mysterious lighting.
Parise has assembled an attractive and charismatic ensemble that comes together most seamlessly when the vocals are at their most joyous, as they are in the stunning Act One closer, “Roll Jordan.” That song sends you out into the lobby on a wave of righteous gospel fervor. Unfortunately, the show closes on a much weaker note, a reprise of “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” and it’s that irritatingly catchy ditty that’ll buzz in your head for most of the trip home.