The University of Maryland Theatre Department's production of Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies has definitely "got that swing."
The orchestra, conducted by Edward Walters (a faculty member at the UMD School of Music who has recorded with Johnny Mathis and Aretha Franklin), brilliantly reproduces Ellington's works with all of their original flair and passion. Coupled with beautifully graceful dancers and singers who are, on the whole, far above average, the performance will dazzle both jazz fans and the general public.
While the male singers are somewhat disappointing, the female leads are spectacular, especially Rachel Carlson, Elizabeth Zimmerman, Jessica Hyman and Abbie Gustafson. Even Zimmerman, the most petite, belts out a truly awe-inspiring rendition of "Hit Me With a Hot Note" in the first act. To the guys' credit they do manage to pull it together towards the end in a great interpretation of "Sophisticated Lady." Other notable songs include "It Don't Mean a Thing" with Hyman and "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" blended with "Mood Indigo," performed by Gustafson and Carlson.
"I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good/Mood Indigo" also boasts the best costumes of the show. The costumes are really outstanding throughout, by far the best aspect of the show, but there they are at their peak, perfectly playing into the tone of the combined pieces. The whole show is reinforced with strong colors and wildly imaginative garb that capture the energy of Ellington's music.
As long as the singers hold that enthusiasm, they are excellent as well. But a couple of numbers with no action by either the singers or the dancers bring the show down. Despite those few kinks and duds, Sophisticated Ladies is a remarkable hit for a mostly student production.
Sophisticated Ladies is running until October 25 at the Clarice Smith Center at UMD. It is an hour and a half with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information call (301) 405 - ARTS or visit www.claricesmithcenter.umd.edu.
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