Performing Arts: Theater
February 15, 2016
Hardly a minute goes by in Cabin in the Sky when someone isn’t foot slapping the floor or swinging their hips in a non-stop movement and music celebration. That’s due to the handy work of director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and choreographer Camille A. Brown, not to mention a rather fine cast.

Known primarily as a film directed by Vincente Minnelli starring Ethel Waters, Lena Horn, Eddie “Rochester” Hamilton, Louis Armstrong and the ace Duke Ellington Orchestra, “Cabin in the Sky” was pulled from the original Broadway production featuring George Balanchine in the director’s chair along with Katherine Dunham and her dancers’ establishing the raucous steps staged by Balanchine.

Large footprints to fill, no doubt, but City Center's Encores! succeeds in its presentation of an all black cast in this sonorous production.

Basically, it’s a musical battle between Lucifer's The Head Man (Chuck Cooper) and Lord’s General (Norm Lewis) over the soul of one rascal "Little Joe" Jackson (Michael Potts). Intent on saving him after a gambling mishap, Petunia Jackson, the excellent LaChanze, prays hard to snatch her husband, Little Joe’s soul away from Lucifer. Right then, the two men of heaven and hell wager a bet that Little Joe will slide back to his unholy ways in 6 months. If he stays clean then he rises to the Lord otherwise, he drops to Lucifer.

One of the evening’s show-stoppers was the "Cafe Dance" suggesting hot dance times in Havana instead of Savannah. Known primarily as a modern dance choreographer, Brown applies a steady and animated hand to the dances that reference social dances of time inflected with a good does of inventiveness, accenting run-of-the-mill lifts and turns with clever accents.

Effortlessly directed by the talented Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Cabin in the Sky” hardly let a minute go by without the stage throbbing in movement, emotion and ringing voices. Another hard-driving cast member is the blazing Encores! Orchestra stretched across the back of the stage, knocking out jazz licks with precision and speed under the director Rob Berman.

With music by the legendary jazz composer and orchestrator Vernon Duke, Cabin in the Sky flies on lyrics by John Latouche, and book by Lynn Root. Although the whole cast is excellent, Marva Hicks as Lily, Brother Green as J.D. Webster and Carly Hughes as the seductress Georgia Brown shine. The dancers, swinging through the Lindy Hop. flick fingers, soulfully grind feet into the earth, and snap out body isolations, understandably elicit howls from the audience. Is there a Broadway run in sight? Guess we’ll see.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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