One Mo' Time -- At the Kreeger Theater through December 14.
"One Mo' Time" at Arena Stage is a powerful reminder that the birth of the blues was far from an easy one.
Arena's Kreeger Theater has been transformed into New Orleans' Lyric Theatre in the 1920s, where black performers, who were barred from the other stages in town, were booked in willy-nilly by the white owners.
A great singer like Bessie Smith or Ethel Waters might follow jugglers and precede blackface comics, and the only sure thing was that none would be decently paid. Like baseball's Jackie Robinson, a black artist had to be tougher and better than anybody to break the color barrier.
"One Mo' Time" is built around the trials and triumph of a troupe of singers who spend their time on stage belting out songs and their time backstage threatening to belt out each other and the wonderfully evil white theater manager. Through it all a fine Dixieland band puts on a performance that alone would be worth the price of admission.
The pace is so fast that the two hours melt away like cotton candy, yet the show is so crammed with classic songs (28, count 'em, 28) that it seems much longer. The show has all the musicianship and twice the content of "Ain't Misbehavin'." True to its origins, "One Mo' Time" not only gets down, the songs get downright raunchy at times, using the intricate and lyrical double entendre that blacks developed to mock and mislead the boss man.
There is an irritating sound problem. When leading singer Ron Wyche uses a throat microphone his voice becomes disembodied; wherever he may be or go on stage, the sound issues from the far left or right, depending on where one is sitting. It seems odd that a professional singer should need amplification in such a compact theater as the Kreeger, and odder still that Arena's superb staff cannot overcome the difficulty, which is common to several other Washington theaters.
It is a continuing but minor flaw, and stands out simply because it is the only one. The setting and costuming are up to Arena's usual standard, which is to say that they don't seem to be sets and costumes.
To cite individual performances would be to shortchange any unmentional performer. There are 10 people onstage in "One Mo' Time, " and each contributes 10 percent to 100 percent delight.