Zach Theatre is known as Austin’s theatre, over the past 30 they have grown and been bringing some of the best theatre that Texas, and now the U.S. has to offer to Austin. I remember the first time I was truly blown away by Zach Theatre, it was their production of Our Town in 2011 with Jaston Williams in the lead role as the “Stage Manager.” Now in 2015 with a new Broadway caliber theater and the resources to bring in Broadway legends Zach has once again blown me away.
Their Current production “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies” is a musical revue of the songs and music of The Duke himself. This production is a high energy spectacle of talent, sights, sounds, and soul. The production features local Austin talents alongside some very special guest performers. Now that Zach has grown into one of the most recognized theatres in America they are able to go all out in the quality of their productions as well as the casting, this production features Tony Award Winner Jennifer Holliday as “The Chanteuse” as well as Chanel Haynes-Schwartz from RnB Group Trinity 5:7 as “The Soubrette.” We will get back to those two later. First let’s talk about the real stars of the show the dancers.
This show while a musical revue and you would think it is about the singing and music, truth be told it is all about the dancing. The ensemble that director Abe Reybold has assembled to dance this show is out of this world. They go non-stop at level 210 from the opening of the show all the way until the curtain closes as the finale! My favorite moment in the show aside from Ms. Holliday’s final number, is when Matthew Sheilds one of the featured dancers has a tap battle with Afra Hines “The Danseuse.” Sheilds’ footwork left me speechless and Hines’ graceful beauty pushed the audience to the edge of their seats.
Everyone including myself was eagerly awaiting Jennifer Holliday’s moments on the stage, and she is featured in several numbers, and while I came for Holliday I stayed for Ms. Chanel Haynes-Swatrz, she is beyond beautiful and her voice is like sweet champagne mixed with diamonds. Her dulcet tones made me gasp, I was shocked that I had never heard of her before. She not only has a voice of pure gold but her stage presence is commanding, and delicious. From her first number wearing a sassy Caribbean bathing ensemble to her spotlight stealing moment in a Bob Mackey inspired pink gown Ms. Haynes-Swartz proves she is the real star of the show even if you haven’t heard of her before. You won’t forget her beauty, grace, and voice after seeing this show.
Now, that is not to say that Ms. Holliday is playing second fiddle, in fact she easy holds her own against all the dancing, and the other singers. I was slightly disappointed at times with Ms. Holliday’s performance I came wanting more and for a while I thought I would going to leave feeling shorthanded. However just like clockwork Ms.Holliday delivers in the final moment. When Jennifer Holliday takes the stage to sing “I’ve Got It Bad” I went weak in the knees, she proved why she is still Tony Award worthy. Her voice is like a hurricane that comes in and leaves everyone destroyed by its awesome power. I literally could not breathe and was in tears at the power and beauty of her vocal chords. Please forgive me Ms. Holliday for doubting that you would deliver. Holliday takes that song and destroys every note and lyric making the audience and all of her fellow performers bow in her wake.
This production is stunning from top to bottom from the simple and yet so elegant set by J. Aaron Bell that makes you feel like you are in an old time Jazz Club, to the stunning costumes by Susan Branch Towne that make the show. The lighting by Michelle Habeck is gorgeous and makes every aspect of this show look perfect. All the way around this is a spectacular production that is easily on par with anything on Broadway. Hands down this is the best show I have ever seen, not just in Austin but around the world. I give this show an unprecedented 7 out of 5 stars!
“Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies” continues through August 23,2015 for more information and tickets go to http://www.zachtheatre.org