Review: 'Club Morocco' swings

Helen Hocker Theater transformed effectively into 1940s supper club
Posted: November 6, 2010 - 5:18pm

In the theater world, they call anyone who can act, sing and dance well a triple threat, and that's exactly what the Helen Hocker Center for the Performing Arts' production of "Club Morocco" is — a triple threat.

The spoof of film noir set in a 1940s supper club, which opened Friday night and will play weekends through Nov. 21 in the Helen Hocker Theater, not only gets that joint a jumpin' with high-energy swing dancing to big band classics, it also delivers laugh after laugh as it pokes fun at Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and their gumshoe ilk.

Directed by Jo Huseman, with musical direction by Nancy Epoch and choreography by Sally Glassman, "Club Morocco" is a delight from beginning to end and a must-see for any fan of the Great American Songbook, many pages of which get turned by some outstanding vocalists and a smoking hot band.

Although packed with song and dance, "Club Morocco" is more than a musical revue. It has a story, much of which is conveyed in the first person by Frank McMann (brilliantly played by Kevin Mott). McMann was quite the hit with the ladies because, well, he knew how to swing. However, six months earlier while investigating the arson of a rival club, McMann got ambushed and shot by the crooked owner of Club Morocco, Torch Tangier (the reliably funny David B. Pomeroy).

The bullet didn't kill McMann. No, he suffered a fate worse than death. The slug robbed him of his swing, so he disappeared, leaving everyone to think him dead. Although he thought about leaving town "with a case of scotch and a broad who knows when to shut up," McMann decides instead to go back to the Club Morocco once more to get his revenge on Tangiers and explain things to the lady he left in the lurch.

That woman is Nugget Rialto, the rising star on the Club Morocco stage. As Nugget, Ebony Wardlaw's four solo numbers, "Old Devil Moon," "Moonlight in Vermont," "Stormy Weather" and "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," are worth double the price of admission. Wardlaw is a stunner both in looks and vocal talent, and would have made Lena Horne jealous on in both those areas.

As Club Morocco's veteran headliner, Velvet St. Regis, Rhonda Lassister is no slouch. She delivers showstopping renditions of "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "As Time Goes By." Harold "Butch" Wilkerson channels Cab Calloway to portray Chick Valentine, leader of the Swing Street All-Stars (Rick Bixler, piano; Don Dabney, trumpet; Jason Degenhardt, drums; Jason Finson, bass; and Brandon Holloman, saxophone).

Since Chick only talks in jive, emcee Bobby LaRue (David Scroggins) interprets for the crowd in some funny bits. Wilkerson and Scroggins both take their turns in the spotlight, including Wilkerson rocking on Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive and Wail," and Scroggins crooning "Begin the Begine" as featured dancers Kitten Springs (Elizabeth Heere) and Rocco deHavilland (Jared Caudle) tripped the light fantastic. Lassiter got to show off her tap-dancing skills in a duet of "I've Got Rhythm" with Scroggins, who showed he could move, too, as he sang and danced "Me and My Shadow" with Caudle.

The other dancers — Jesse Baker, Richard Branch IV, Katy Warner and Liza Webb — wowed the crowd with their athletic flips and spins, especially to Glen Millers' swing anthem, "Sing, Sing, Sing."

What makes "Club Morocco" unique is its audience, if they so choose, can dance, too, either with cast members or their regular dancing partner. There's even a dance contest, which to the tune of "Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy, Floy)" was won opening night by a Gloy and a Gloy — Bill and Shirley Gloy.

Fans of big band, swing and jumpin' jive should quickly make a reservation for "Club Morocco" because it's going to be hard to get a seat there once word gets out about its great floor show.

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