Entertainment

Singin’ the blues MetroStage as Paris cabaret

  • Alexandria (VA) Times
  • |
  • January 30, 2007

by Karen Feld

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Imagine sitting in an intimate cabaret in Paris in the middle of the 20th century and listening to blues and top mood music of the day. Sound romantic? Check out “Bricktop,” the musical currently playing at MetroStage in Alexandria. You can participate in an entertaining evening at Chez Bricktop.

The 90-minute musical is based on African-American singer, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, who ran a cabaret in Paris for 40 years beginning in 1924. Her friends included well-known jazz and blues vocalists Mabel Mercer and Alberta Hunter. The evolving relationship among these three glamorous women forms the basis of the storyline portrayed musically from the mid-twenties until their deaths in the eighties.

Paris in the 1920’s embraced these talented black performers before America was ready to do so. Each had her own signature style: Peggy Ann Blow, who portrayed Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” plays ‘Brickie’, the outspoken redhead and savvy businesswoman; Native Washingtonian, Roz White Gonsalves, who previously played Mahalia Jackson, portrays Alberta Hunter; C. Kelly Wright, in her debut at MetroStage, plays British-born and mannered, Mabel Mercer, whose father was a black American musician. William Knowles on piano provided backup to these talented dames.

The unique staging of “Bricktop” transforms the 200-seat MetroStage into a buzzing cabaret. It’s interactive in that audience members are given mini-drums – and some of them actually sit on stage as patrons in the café – and are called upon to dance with the cast. This is a lively and colorful revue with a multitude of glamorous costume changes.

How could we not love the now familiar classic music –”I Never Knew,” by Johnny Mercer, “This Joint is Jumping” by Fats Waller, “Just One of Those Things,” by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”

Dancing, yes, but no applauding. That’s a no no at Chez Bricktop, hence the noisemakers on each seat. See it for yourself. Take a journey back in time and enjoy this exuberant experience.

-KAREN FELD

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