Review of Eubie! at The Black Rep

    The Black Rep is laying out for us on the Edison Theatre stage a glorious theatrical feast.  

    This feast has no drama to fascinate us. But it has everything else you can have in theatre, all done exactly as they should be.

    Start with the material. The show is called Eubie! Eubie Blake was a composer of popular music in the first half of the 20th century. He worked with a lyricist named Noble Sissle. They had several big hits, including one that the popular vaudeville and nightclub singer Sophie Tucker popularized. Even more, they took the bold step for African-Americans of writing a musical, Shuffle Along, with ragtime and other African-American kinds of music and a mostly Black cast. It ran on Broadway for 500 performances. 

    In 1978, a Broadway showman named Julianne Boyd decided this material was too good to forget. He put together an evening that he called Eubie!,with material from Shuffle Along and other Blake hits. This, too, did well on Broadway, and Blake, who had a long life, became a regular on Johnny Carson’s late night show, playing the piano, singing his songs, chatting with Johnny.

    This is the material The Black Rep is now playing to delight us. 

    The costumes delight the eye. The cast opens in formal evening wear, with the men’s vests matching the color range of the women’s gowns. And the costumes move on from there, constantly changing, most less formal than at first but always inventive and appropriate, attractive on the women and on the men, who sometimes got to display how buff they are. Marc W. Vital II designed the costumes, and he seemed to have a budget equal to his brilliance as a designer.

    This kind of musical evening rarely needs much in the way of a set, nor did Eubie! Scenic Designer Tim Jones met the need with an intriguing open-work logo upstage for the show, somewhere between Art Nouveau and Art Deco, appropriate for the period, hanging over two platforms a step or two up, very helpful for director Ron Himes when arranging his forces on the stage. Chairs and tables and even a courtroom are added as needed.

    Given the open stage, the range and clarity of Jasmine Williams’ lighting design is crucial. 

    Justin Schmitz’s sound design ably supported the singers and the work of Musical Director Joe Dryer and his ensemble, located upstage of a stage-wide scrim – now you see them, now you don’t.

    Much of the organizing of movement on the stage in a show of this kind is of necessity turned over from the director to the choreographers. Eubie! has three, all excellent. Vivian Watt brought her training with Katherine Dunham into the production. I am more impressed every time I see what Heather Beal does with choreography for the performers in musical theatre. Robert Crenshaw choreographed the tap numbers, which are sensational. He even touched toe on stage a few times himself.

    Because I have no characters by which I can identify the actors playing them, and I don’t know the songs well enough for me to identify the singers by what they sing, I must resort only to sharing with you the names of those performing, all with excellence: Coda Boyce, DeAnte Bryant, Robert Crenshaw, Serdalyer Darden, Evann De-Bose, Samantha Madison, Venezie Manuel, Carvas Pickens, Tamara PiLar, and J’Kobe Wallace. 

    My thanks to one and all at The Black Rep for a lovely evening of theatre.

    —Bob Wilcox

    Photo by Phillip Hamer Photography
    The cast of Eubie! (from the left): Venezia Manuel, Carvas Pickens, Tamara PiLar, DeAnte Bryant, Coda Boyce, Serdalyer Darden, Evon De-Bose, Robert Crenshaw, Samantha Madison, and J’Kobe Wallace