Theater

Review: Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies at Porchlight

The joint is jumping at Porchlight Music Theater with Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies, a musical revue celebrating the legendary jazzman’s body of work.

Dubbed “Duke” as a young man for his dapper style and confident demeanor, Ellington produced some of the biggest jazz hits of his time, forever securing his legacy as American music nobility.

Sophisticated Ladies brings Ellington’s life and music to the stage in a stylish fashion befitting the Duke. Set in a jazz club of the 1920s and 30s, the production portrays the types of characters you might find there—the musician, singer, dancer, flirt, and hipster. And just like a jazz club, the band is on stage throughout, led by music director and pianist, Jermaine Hill.

The music is the story, and what comes across is not so much a plotline, but musical moods expressed through showcase vocals like “Hit Me with a Hot Note” and “In a Sentimental Mood” as well as exuberant tap numbers like “I’ve Got to Be a Rug Cutter” that get the audience revved up for more.

The three sophisticated ladies who are vocally featured in this production, Lydia Burke, Donica Lynn, and Molly Kral, captivate the audience with an impressive range of vocal and emotional tones—alternately sultry, sassy, guttural, and polished. Burke and Lynn are complemented by the smooth charisma of their frequent song partner, Lorenzo Rush Jr., while Kral makes the most of the besotted charm of John Marshall Jr.

The full joie-de-vivre of this production, however, is realized in the dance numbers staged by Brenda Didier and Florence Walker-Harris and performed by the entire sophisticated ensemble. Replete with the glitz, glam, and sparkle of costumes designed by Theresa Ham, the dance numbers dazzle the eyes, uplift the spirit, and bring the crowd to its feet.

In the end, Duke Ellington’s music is the star of this show, and the real sophisticated ladies are the songs he composed and played. Porchlight Music Theater’s production of Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies gives a little glimpse into the life that inspired that music, but more than that, it is a testament to the life that Ellington’s music continues to inspire.

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