"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing," goes a song in "Sophisticated Ladies," the Duke Ellington revue at the Warner Theater. Swing this show has -- cleverness, too, along with enough pizazz to power a Waring blender.
But what it wants is heart, and a dash of the late Duke's elegance. As things look now, this road production of the Broadway his is an orgy of red runner lights, gold lame tuxedoes, flourescent feathers and greeting-card grins. Most of the sophisticated ladies of the title are made to look like hookers, while the show sports all the sophistication of a '66 Caddy grill, and all the warm promise of that limo's heart-shaped window.
There's no denying, though, that this revue dazzles with dancing, especially the heady hoofing of Gregg Burge; it also swings with music, scintillates with scat, and benefits from the smoky singing of Dee Dee Bridgewater and such incomparable Ellington standards as "Take The 'A' Train," "Solitude," "Satin Doll," "Mood Indigo" and too many more to mention.
Donald McKayle claims credit for the show's concept, while he and director Michael Smuin staged and choreographed it in two acts. Tony Walton did the electric-blue sets, and Willa Kim, who apparently couldn't stay away from the glitter bag, designed the costumes.
The first act is set mostly at the Cotton Club, Ellington's Harlem haunt, evoked by a lightbulb sign hanging over the stage. The second takes place under, around and upon a blinking luminous staircase constructed to look like a keyboard. After a while it started to give me a headache.
The pace is rat-tat-tat and the glare is harsh, giving the action the texture of a video game. But if you really love the Duke, you'd probably be happier at home with your records. SOPHISTICATED LADIES -- At the Warner through September 25.