While Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre gets ready to Play On! with the music of Duke Ellington, FL's Coconut Grove's Encore Room Theatre will use jazz to tell a similar but smaller-scaled story, in John Nassivera and Jeffrey Bernstein's The Jazz Club, opening Feb. 21.
A two-person musical set in 1940s Harlem, The Jazz Club features David Beach (David) and Adriane Lenox (Rose), playing a wealthy English jazz pianist and a streetwise, black jazz singer, respectively. David bribes his way into playing for Rose at Symphony Sam's, in order to convince her to take him on as manager. Rose mistakes his attentions for a sexual advance, but soon they resolve their distrust and tension. Along the way, Lenox's Rose gets to sing such standards as "My Man," "Let's Do It," "Body And Soul," "He's Funny That Way" and several other samples of what production spokesperson Cece Shantzek calls "tried and true jazz favorites."
Playwright Nassivera, who sees his play as a metaphor for race relations in the U.S., has said, "The Jazz Club is intended as a small theatrical metaphor about the coming together of opposites...jazz is America's music because jazz tells America's story."
Nassivera workshopped the piece at Vermont's Dorset Colony, where he servesas producing director of the Dorset Theatre Festival. Other works by the author include The Penultimate Problem Of Sherlock Holmes, Phallacies and All The Queen's Men. A lifetime member of Columbia University's Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Nassivera was on Columbia's faculty for many years.
Lenox won a 1990 Helen Hayes Best Actress Award for her work in Arena Stage's On The Town, and she appeared on Broadway in Dreamgirls, Ain't Misbehavin' and The Buddy Holly Story. Beach was in Moon Over Buffalo, That's Life!, Hell's Kitchen Sink and The Compleat Works Of Wllm Shkspr [Abridged]. Director Jeff Moss' recent assignments include the Chicago production of Lady Day At Emerson's Bar & Grill (starring Eartha Kitt), and Coconut Grove's Golden Boy. Jeffrey Bernstein did the musical research and song selection for the show.
In conjunction with the production, which has a set by Stephen M. Lambert, costumes by Ellis Tillman and lighting by M. Todd Williams, the Encore Room will offer a Jazz After-Hours Series for 8 weeks, begining Feb. 16. "Groovin' In The Grove" is a cooperative venture between the Coconut Grove Playhouse and the African-American Cultural Preservation Society.
For tickets ($22-$27) and information on The Jazz Club at Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse, Feb. 18-April 13, call (305) 442-4000.
--By David Lefkowitz