Long Beach is indeed a-jumpin’ with International City Theatre’s absolutely terrific revival of The All Night Strut. Music, song, and dance from the big band and swing era combine under the sensational direction of Lance Roberts (who also choreographed the many fabulous dance sequences), with a smashing quartet of triple-threat performers singing such standards as “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “As Time Goes By,” and “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing.”

With the ever-so-imaginative Roberts at the helm, what might have been a pleasant evening of nostalgia becomes an exciting blend of splendid vocals and dazzling dance steps.

Stephen Gifford’s classy red-white-and-black art-deco set transforms the ICT stage into a 1940s nightclub, with audience members seated not only in their usual seats, but also at stage-side tables with cocktail service before the performance. Jared A. Sayeg’s dazzlingly inventive lighting shines spots onto the stage though wispy clouds of “smoke,” adding to the impression that we’ve gone back in time to an era of smoky clubs and silky voices. (Don’t worry.  The smoke is fake and unlikely to bother even sensitive non-smokers.)

The stars (Rodrick Covington, Robert Moffat, Cassandra Murphy, and Victoria Platt) enter the faux-marble-floored stage dressed to the nines in red and black, the men in three-piece pinstripes and the women in big-shouldered, big-hatted 40s chic.  Behind them sit three of the most talented musicians around—award-winning musical director/conductor/pianist Gerald Sternbach, Leslie Baker on bass, and Richard Martinez on drums.

And the show takes off, starting with the instantly recognizable strains of “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” followed by a jitterbugging, finger-shaking, gravity-defying high-kicking “Minnie The Moocher.”  Baritone Covington breaks hearts with his soulful rendition of “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” (which features some gorgeous vocal arrangements for the backup trio). Soprano Murphy stands atop the stage-side bar to sing a jazzy “In The Mood,” and alto Platt grabs a red feather boa to take the audience “up in Harlem every Saturday night” with “Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer.”

Then it’s tenor Moffat’s turn to get things romantic with a gorgeously sung “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley (pronounced Barkley) Square,” followed by some “Crazy Rhythm” (which throws in some crazy acrobatic dancing and a bit of the South Of The Border beat). Things get slow and sensual with “Java Jive” (“a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup”) spiced up with a few comedy touches.

Then the lights go down and the voice of FDR fills the theater, announcing “a date which will live in infamy.” The band don sailor caps to introduce (what else?) a medley of World War II hits, and the quartet returns sporting khaki Army officer caps and segwaying into the boogie woogie sounds of “GI Jive.”

If Moffat’s rendition of “A Nightingale Sang…” didn’t bring tears to your eyes, then Platt’s gorgeous “White Cliffs Of Dover” certainly will.  And with the boys off to war, the gals turn into “Rosie The Riveter,” and make some pretty authentic riveting sounds to accompany the swinging melody.  “You’re A Lucky Fellow Mr. Smith” has the gang marching off to battle and features a revival-meeting-ready solo by Covington.

An inspirational “Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer” ends up sung in tandem with the marching-rhythms of “Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition,” followed by Murphy’s exquisitely sung “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

And that’s just Act 1.

Covington, Moffat, Murphy, and Platt are gorgeous to look at and gorgeous to listen to and terrific dancers each and every one, and there’s no better musical director than Sternbach. Director Roberts, a veteran of a zillion or so All Night Struts as a performer, makes sure that every single song stands out and tells its own unique story in music and choreography, and rumor has it that he’s behind the elegant/sexy (but unbilled) costumes.  Sound designer Paul Fabre does flawless work in blending accompaniment and vocals.

Gifford’s set gets a new look for virtually every song, thanks to Sayeg’s tour de force lighting.  That the gifted young Sayeg can do both the subtle lighting of Trying, Educating Rita, and ICT’s recent Park Your Car In Harvard Hard—and the Vegas bedazzle of The Who’s Tommy and The All Night Strut—is nothing short of remarkable. The reds and pinks and whites of Act 1 change to rainbow colors for the second act (to complement the cast’s black and white), with the club’s walls changing from purple to blue to gold, the red lampshades atop each nightclub table providing a vivid counterpoint.

In these times of economic uncertainty, it makes perfect sense to travel back sixty-five or so years to a “simpler time,” and The All Night Strut does just that with its two-dozen-plus “Greatest Hits” of the 40s.  Even those for whom 80s or 90s hits seem like “Golden Oldies” will respond to the hand-clapping, finger-snapping beats of The All Night Strut. 

International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
October 17, 2008
Photos: Carlos Delgado

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