André De Shields: Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Haarlem Nocturne

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André De Shields

Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Haarlem Nocturne

54 Below, NYC, February 20, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

André De Shields
Photo: Lia Chang

Broadway icon and Tony Award winner André De Shields brought a most unusual show to 54 Below to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Haarlem Nocturne, the musical he co-created with music director Marc Shaiman and co-author Murray Horwitz. It was first performed at the historic LaMama Experimental Theatre Club and then at the fabled Latin Quarter. How appropriate it was to revive it at another glamorous hot spot. It was slightly trimmed compared with the original production (De Shields added with a grin that they removed some of the naughty bits), but it was still filled with surprises, emotions, and yes, some naughty bits. Rather than a standard cabaret evening, this was a full production with three superb female performers, and Shaiman was back at the piano to provide both musical backing along with some vocal contributions and a good deal of sweet humor.

Of course, at the center of it all was the magnetic De Shields. His presence was so strong that all he had to do was extend a finger to be mesmerizing. His energy was so substantial that it often carried him off the stage and through the audience. When he was interrupted early in the program by a cell phone that went off at a ringside table, he handled it with great charm and turned it into a running joke throughout the show. Numbers such as “Love in the Morning” (Steven Lemberg) and “New York Is a Party” (Shaiman/Robert I) showed him in complete control of his artistry. He also led a riotous “Street Corner Symphony Rap,” donning a monumental Afro wig and showing off his best dance moves as he partnered with Kimberly Marable, from the current Chicago revival.

Marable and two other fabulous females made up the rest of the cast. Freida Williams had been part of the original cast of the show 40 years ago so she brought both extensive talent and authenticity to the evening. As to Crystal Monee Hall’s galvanic talent filled the room when she soloed on “Water Faucet Blues” (Micki Grant), which thrilled the audience. Joining forces, the three women performed a delightful medley of the girl-group numbers “Soldier Boy,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and “Mr. Postman” with great attention to their period sound. For their close harmony on the title tune of the show, performed at the bar, the words “gorgeous” and “sublime” would certainly apply.

One number that was not in the original production but was touching and very funny was a duet by De Shields and Shaiman on “Old Friends” that had some appropriate and clever lyric changes. The finale of the show, a song written by the star, “L.O.V.E.,” was a joyous celebration that involved the entire cast. What a remarkable and singular evening this was for all concerned.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."