It's hard to know which mistake about "Cab Calloway's Cotton Club Revisited" is greater--the format or the location. Billed as a revue, it is really a variety show waiting for the rebirth of Ed Sullivan. But even that laborious and unimaginative structure might be more propitiously housed in a nightclub rather than the Terrace Theater.
The Terrace is a lovely purple theater, but in a nightclub's ambiance, warmed by cocktails and good-time elegance, the show's shortcomings of offensive jokes, uninteresting dancing and labored singing might not be so palpable. All the performers seem like nice people, lost on a stage where they cannot engage comfortably in banter with the audience and trapped in a production that only requires them to haul out their old routines and dust them off.
The connection with the Cotton Club, a legendary Harlem nightclub that flourished in the 1920s and '30s, seems to be limited to the presence of Cab Calloway, who performed there. Calloway, resplendent in white tails, is now 75 and seems determined to demonstrate his unflagging energy to an almost frightening degree. The high point of the evening, however, was his favorite, "Minnie the Moocher," a great old song that he must have sung 80 zillion times. But why he chose to take "September Song," one of the most beautiful ballads ever penned by human hands, and hype the tempo to the level of a marching band is a mystery too distressing to dwell on.
Timmie Rogers, a cheerful comic who announced that in June he will have spent 52 years in show business, delivered a string of wife, mother-in-law, Sammy Davis Jr. and gay jokes that managed to offend without amusing. With each joke, another mothball fell. Cynthia White, the singer, looked smashing in a slinky dress and feather boa, and wore an interesting pair of shoes with the spike heel under the arch. She sang a Fats Waller medley with some flair.
There is a dancing team made up of Al Minns and Sugar Sullivan, who have been dancing for 50 years and still can. They were mirrored by a younger, flashier pair that was not identified in the program. Bunny Briggs, a jazz tap dancer, has a subtle style that concentrates on the sound of the tap rather than the pyrotechnics in the rest of the body.
These performers, who have been loyally trooping for most of their lives, were not well served by opening night technical gaffes that included audible backstage talking, missed light cues and an announcer who seemed unfamiliar with his script. But, surely, they all will survive this and find a better showcase for their talents.
"Cab Calloway's Cotton Club Revisited," produced by Jerry Kravat Entertainment. With Cab Calloway, the Hi-De-Ho Orchestra, Al Minns and Sugar Sullivan, Bunny Briggs, Cynthia White and Timmie Rogers.
At the Terrace Theater through May 8.