ONE MO' TIME! -- At the National Theater through July 26.
Aptly titled, "One Mo' Time" is here again, at the National Theater. The songs are from the 1920s, the format is that of half a dozen shows that have played different theaters in town in the past few seasons, and a production of this one was done last winter at Arena Stage.
It is, however, worth another time. The songs -- "The Darktown Strutters' Ball," "He's Funny That Way," "A Hot Time in the Old Town" -- are everyone's favorites, and they are lustily done.
The format, no matter how many times it has successfully served for shows billed as musicals, such as "Sophisticated Ladies," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Eubie!," is not that of a musical comedy: It's a muscial revue, or, more properly, a nightclub act extended to fill the time and space specifications of a theater, but served minus the drinks. No one should feel inhibited about yelling encouragement to the performers or otherwise behaving as if they were not lined up in endless rows with nothing in their hands but programs.
There is, in fact, a direct challenge issued by the character of a thoroughly unpleasant white theater owner, whom James "Red" Wilcher plays with a pinched voice and look, as the presenter of "the best in colored entertainment" to a 1926 New Orleans audience of whom he expects the worst.
As is more or less standard with this format, the performers include one great, powerful, bawdy woman who alternately knocks people dead with her voice and with her breath; a skinny challenger who is just asking for it; a high-stepping dancer who treads carefully offstage and a raucous comedian. These roles are respectively done with tremendous zest by Sandra Reaves-Phillips, Deborah Burrell, Jackee Harry and Alan Weeks.
Direct from the period is Cladys "Jabbo" Smith, on the trumpet and singing, in a wonderfully cracked voice, as if his voice were changing to some sage new stage in life. Blessedly, though, the songs are not held together by the sort of television formula "tribute" that has found its tedious way into several of these revues.
In between numbers, the players, in a dressing rom set to one side of the stage-within-a-stage, insult one another. The insults are not as memorable as the songs, but as they are delivered with equal enthusiasm, they serve as well as anything to string the musical numbers together.