It's not as lavish or flashy as some of its current in-town models. Nor is it star-studded.
But its pattern is basically the same as a whole slew of recent musicals: a hodgepodge musical revue celebrating black entertainers of the '20s and '30s.
Do we need another? Hardly. Certainly not "A Place to Be Somebody," which opened a three-night run last night at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.
The trouble with this production is that it's just a string of vaudeville acts sharing few connecting links. The stated aim was to reconstruct the kind of programs seen at the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club. That's all right. But why bring such thin entertainment to a showplace like the Smithsonian?
The format had scriptwriter-director Dick Vance reading some cumbersome prose that failed to match the zest of the material and performers he was describing. Moreover, it got in the way of the show's flow (Vance also offered some pleasant Louis Armstrong impressions, singing and playing trumpet).
Starting off slowly with Cook and Brown, a comedy dance team whose '30s routines now seem corny, and Thais Clark, a young vocalist struggling in the Bessie Smith mold, the production hit a lively pace with Honi Coles, a remarkable tap dancer who evoked images of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in his own debonair way.
The fast clip continued with comedian Stu Gilliam (pronounced Gillum), who dashed off some funny routines about liquor, a huge elephant at the museum, the cost of dying and tax troubles.
The most bizarre part of the evening came with Joanne Morris, whose hair was dyed blond. Serving up such nonidiomatic songs as "On a Clear Day" and "Mack the Knife," she sounded like a black imitating a white imitating a black.
The show ended with some high-stepping, acrobatic tap dancing from The Third Generation Steps, three youngsters (one woman, two men), who apprenticed with Maceo Anderson, one of the original Step Brothers. They've learned well.
Coles, Gilliam and The Third Generation Steps were appealing because they looked to the past but were imaginative enough to shape their acts as well to the present. Some of the others were just plain corny.