Sheldon Epps conceived and directs the piece, which transposes the basic gender-bending plotline of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to "the jazz center of the world," 1940's Harlem, alive with the sounds of swing. With a book by Cheryl L. West and featuring the songs of Duke Ellington, the musical fantasy recreates a rarely-seen slice of pre-war and wartime New York.
Choreographing their jumps will be Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke. Luther Henderson (Ain't Misbehavin') did the orchestrations.
Ellington tunes making their appearance include "Take The A Train," "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," and "I'm Just A Lucky So And-So," as well as some "rarely heard treasures." Audience favorites in the show include "Rocks In My Bed" and "I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Blues" Along with De Shields and Pinkins, those delivering the songs will be (Jelly's Last Jam), Cheryl Freeman, Larry Marshall, Yvette Cason, Lawrence Hamilton and Carl Anderson, who originated the role of Judas in the Broadway national tour and film version of Christ Superstar. Ensemble members include Crystal Allen, Cadet Bastine, Jacquelyn Bird, Wendee Lee Curtis, Byron Easley, Frantz G. Hall, Bryan S. Haynes, Gil P., Lacy Phillips, Stacie Precia, Lisa Scialabba, Erika Vaughn and William Wesley.
The creative team for Play On! includes James Leonard Joy (set), Marianna Elliott (costumes), Jeff Davis (lighting) and Jeff Ladman (sound). Joy's set makes much use of sliding panels and mirrors; Elliott's costumes range from zoot suits to an ornate red robe for Ellington. Cheryl L. West has written the plays Jar The Floor, Puddin' N Pete and Holiday Heart.
The Maxwells and the Nederlander Organization supported a workshop of Play On! last year at New York's Second Stage Theatre. According to Anne Marie Welsh's story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mitchell Maxwell's comment on the piece was, "This is the most lucky thing that's happened to me in years." The producers are currently in the process (as of March 24) of putting together an original cast-CD deal, aimed at a release on Duke Ellington's birthday, April 29.
At least two previous musicals have been based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: Your Own Thing in 1968 and
A full-age NY Times ad announcing the show hit the papers Jan. 19, featuring an eye-catching, colorful, art deco-style drawing of a snazzily dressed black woman (in a man's tuxedo) dancing with a saxophone and two horns nearby. The caption quotes the Shakespearean line that gives the musical its title: "If music be the food of love...Play On!"
Tickets are now on sale for Play On! at (212) 307-4100.