During the holiday season, reviewers go to shows that are very diverse. One night we’re reviewing a charming children’s story, and the next, we’re lucky enough to listen to the roof being raised by a group of blues/jazz/musical theatre singers that bring some adult attitudes to the season. In other words, “A Snowy Nite at the Dew Drop Inn” is a rowdy, well-choreographed, and beautifully sung show that will warm your heart in a different way.
…rowdy, well-choreographed, and beautifully sung…a dazzler of a show.
It will also be impossible not to do some seat dancing when you go. The onstage band is comprised of William Knowles (the Piano Man), Mark Z. Saltman (acoustic bass), and Michael Fitzhugh (trumpet). Combined with six powerful voices, the rafters shake.
The production is a simple and time-honored premise (this is the “White Christmas” that should have been made). Part of the stage is designed as a club with small tables and chairs for the audience in addition to the tiered U-shaped seating. The audience is walking into a club atmosphere where we can go get a soda or some wine and a snack as we settle in and wait for the floor show to begin. When it does, it just sweeps the mundane world away.
The fun starts with L’il Johnny (Marcel Worrell Miller) who sets up the bar. Next Gayzelle (Ayanna Hardy) sweeps in, head-to-toe in gold and silver brilliants. In quick succession we are introduced to the emcee, Buster Broadnax (Robert E. Person), Sunshine Shug (Sherice Payne), Pearl Bon Temp (Yvette Spears), and Mr. Percy (Fashad Wilson Tyler).
We are gifted with over 32 songs and an instrumental piece from the band, beginning with “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” There are a few Christmas-themed songs sprinkled in with the blues and jazz (and one really evil—in the best possible way—rendition of “Hound Dog” by Spears), including a “Santa Baby” by Spears that raises the temperature.
These singers have incredible power and range in their voices, although a couple of times there was a bit too much reverb in one singer’s mike, and another’s seemed to cut off a bit in the lower registers, but it didn’t detract from the show overall. Hardy sang a version of “At Last” that could make sinners repent. Equally adept at jazz are both Spears and Payne—the latter’s rendition of “What a Difference a Day Makes” was a gorgeous, secular hymn to love.
The gentlemen (Person, Miller and Tyler) get to have some fun about two-thirds of the way in when they joined together on Miller & Lyles (a homage to E.F. Flournay, early Black entertainment visionary), and then nearly stole the show with “Caldonia,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and “60 Minute Man.” I have never heard the latter sung so joyfully.
Stephawn Stephens directed this show with William Knowles (also the pianist) as music director. Lighting design is by John D. Alexander and the set designer is Megan Holden. Together they all created a feeling of a cross between a bar in New Orleans and the old clubs along U Street in D.C.
Alison Johnson is the costume, wig, and makeup designer. The women’s dresses and the men’s suits were beautifully tailored. There was a formality to the clothing, whether knee length or gown, and all the suits had vests. Hats, fans, gloves, and a boa added to the sense of earthy glamour.
“A Snowy Nite at the Dew Drop Inn” is a dazzler of a show. It will pick you up and shake you and then cradle you in a song of a love gone wrong. It’s good-hearted and these singers connect with the audience. This show is a divine way to spend some time that isn’t schmaltzy or saccharine. It’s a respite from 24/7 Christmas carols. So come to Anacostia and simply revel in the songs, the voices, that trumpeter, bassist, pianist, the dancing, and the energy. It’s a good reason to give thanks this season.
Running Time: 90 Minutes straight with no intermission.
Show Advisory: Adult-themed songs.
“A Snowy Nite at the Dew Drop Inn” runs through January 9, 2022 at the Anacostia Playhouse,2020 Shannon Pl SE, Washington, DC 20020. For tickets and more information, click here.