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Back by Popular Demand, Indeed!

Michael Sainte | 3/21/2013, 10:39 a.m.

When hoopla is generated about a show, it can create expectations that result in a letdown or disappointment once it is witnessed.

Well, I have witnessed the "back by popular demand" performance of "Ladies Swing the Blues: A Jazz Fable" currently running through March 31 at MetroStage in Alexandria, Va., and can unequivocally tell you that the hoopla is an understatement.

The show, conceived and directed by the much-acclaimed Thomas W. Jones II, is a riff on what could have happened with the passing of jazz icon, saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker in 1955. The setting is a milieu he reigned supremely in: New York's 52nd Street, the cultural mecca of jazz in the universe (think Birdland).

The fable is evoked by a gathering, to commemorate Parker's passing shared by four jazz divas in the tradition of Sarah "Sassy" Vaughan (Yvette Spears), Billie "Lady" Holiday (Roz White), Ella Fitzgerald (Lori Williams) and Peggy Lee (Sandy Bainum), in a dressing room waiting to go on.

Their backstage chatter recalls the exhilarating and fretful musical world of bebop, blues and jazz and peeks into the folklore of jazz mythology about Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bird, Count Basie, Bud Powell, Duke Ellington and others including one mysteriously known as the "Jazz Baroness."

The title of the show is apt, but a bit misleading because the focus of the entire scenario is very much present throughout the telling of the story. Charlie Parker's character is embodied by Anthony Manough, and he sings and struts and dances and interacts with the divas and the other imagined personalities with enthusiastic vigor.

This show is a textbook example of the beauty and power of theatrical ensemble work.

All of the performers are talented, experienced and quite up to the tasks they take on, and their work together is almost like a single entity: seamless and organic in its energy.

The score is made up of actual music from the times and supplemented with original music by the accomplished William Knowles and Jones, and presented with gusto and authenticity by a band including Knowles at piano, Greg Holloway on drums, Grant Langford on alto sax, Doug Pierce and DeAndre Shaifer on trumpet and Cheney Thomas on bass.

The entire cast provides an almost two-hour, non-stop, thoroughly enjoyable onslaught of jazz musical history combined with comedic and dramatic flourishes that are not only entertaining, but insightful and thought provoking.

Case in point: the mystique of the "jazz life" is often referenced by the repeated mantra that any "jazz man's death is a mystery."

Take my word for it, the "back by popular demand" hoopla for this show is more than warranted. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

"Ladies Swing the Blues: A Jazz Fable" runs Thursdays thru Sundays at MetroStage. Tickets are $48-$55. For more information please call: 800-494-8497 or boxofficetickets.com. Group Sales/Info 703-548-9044