is sure to please the eye -- and ear
Roz White and company reinvigorate
Bailey's signature songs, style
By Celia Wren
Saturday, November 28, 2009
It's a good thing actress Roz
White packs so much pizazz into her impersonation of Pearl Bailey -- otherwise she might
be upstaged by her own headgear. Portraying the eponymous theater, film and
nightclub entertainer in MetroStage's "Pearl
Bailey . . . by Request," White initially swans onstage wearing a blue,
black and silver gown, rhinestone earrings, a boa and a luxuriantly feathered
ivory-colored hat. The millinery is to-die-for -- vaguely resembling an ostrich
that's been tussling with a box of confectioner's sugar. But you quite forget
about the chapeau once White has laid it aside and plunged into her
Conceived and co-written by White (Thomas W. Jones II is
co-writer and director), "Pearl Bailey" is another example of that
genre often loathed by critics and apparently loved by audiences: the juke-box
musical, concocted around a set of familiar songs. Fortunately, as such souped-up concerts go, "Pearl Bailey" (which
premiered at MetroStage last year and was recently
seen in Atlanta) is quite fetching -- not to mention blessedly short (it clocks
in at a mere 80 minutes). With polished ebullience and pitch-perfect timing,
D.C. native White glides through wry, sultry renditions of some of Bailey's
best-known songs (including "That's Good Enough for Me" and
"Takes Two to Tango"), effortlessly tossing off poised-diva
witticisms. "It took about 90 minutes to get all this personality into
this dress," she deadpans at one point. "You can applaud that,"
she informs the audience after another zinger.
MetroStage veteran William F. Hubbard serves
as White's sidekick and foil, principally depicting Oran "Hot Lips" Page (a trumpet
player and singer who contributed to some of Bailey's recordings). Hubbard
pitches in artfully on numbers like "Baby, It's
Cold Outside" and briefly even dons a brimmed bonnet to portray Bailey's
mother, seen scolding the young chanteuse for failing to collect a paycheck
from a foundering venue. Such narrative snippets notwithstanding, "Pearl
Bailey" doesn't peddle its heroine's biography too strenuously. The
emphasis is rather on conjuring up a moment brimming with the star's warm
presence and stylistic panache. (Bailey, who died in 1990,
numbered among her accomplishments a Tony-winning turn in "Hello,
Dolly!" and roles in films like "Carmen Jones" and "St.
The onstage four-person band, led by pianist and conductor
William Knowles (the show's musical director and arranger), meshes seamlessly
with the singing and comedy -- drummer Greg Holloway even punctuates quips with
the occasional rimshot. Shoring up the production's
glamour quotient are Jessica Lee Winfield's colorful lighting and the costumes
(including the elegant alabaster gown White wears for an encore) designed by
Let's hope that Sunday and her colleagues have procured a
sturdy hatbox for that feathery number: After "Pearl Bailey" closes
in Alexandria, it's heading to Milwaukee.
“Pearl Bailey . . . by Request” Conceived by Roz White; written by White and Thomas W. Jones II; arrangements
and musical direction, William Knowles; sound engineer, Steve Baena. About 80 minutes. Through Dec. 20
at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria.
For tickets, call 800-494-8497 or visit http://www.metrostage.org.
For more information, call 703-548-9044.
Pearl Bailey…By Request
By Brad Hathaway
November 22, 2009
MetroStage brings back one of its series of
musical tribute shows that attempt to give audiences the chance to come close
to experiencing an evening with a famous person of the past. This is the one
that, as you can tell from its title, offers a chance to find out what it might
have been like attending a club date of Pearl Bailey's. Some of MetroStage's series have been more successful recreations
than this one, and all have provided more serious biographical sketches of the
subject in the process. But they all have been enjoyable and this one is too.
Roz White does the singing and the "Pearling." She developed the
story (such as it is) and concept (which didn't take much developing) and
polished it up with the help of Thomas W. Jones II who gave us some of the
earlier "evening with..." shows. William Hubbard returns as well,
performing as the master of ceremonies and recreating some moments with Hot
Lips Page. Put it all together and its a pleasant
diversion for a winter's evening.
A club-act style recreation of the songs and shtick of Pearly Mae.
came away from last year's Cookin' at the
Cookery with a real sense that they'd seen Alberta Hunter. Similarly, they
had a chance to experience evenings with Nat King Cole and Duke
Ellington in 2006 and Mahalia Jackson
in 2004. Roz White's performance as Pearl Bailey last year didn't seem to work
the same magic although it certainly hinted at what a performance by her
subject might have been like. She's got her Pearly Mae down more convincingly
now but still surveys the bare facts of her life while delivering the big
numbers from her career. She more accurately catches the aplomb with which
Bailey threw off asides, a characteristic that became more and more cartoonish as she became more a parody of her own
distinctive personality in her later life. Thus, over the course of fifteen
songs, White gives a fair sampling of Bailey's output including the iconic
"Legalize My Name" which Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote for her
for the 1946 Broadway hit St. Louis Woman, a sample of the raunchy side
of jazz performed with Hubbard, "The Hucklebuck,"
a tasteful repeat of her early hit "Tired" and, of course, the
two signature songs that have served every impersonator well when trying to
"do" Pearly Mae - snippets from "Hello Dolly" and of
"Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey."
A strength of the evening is the work of the four piece jazz combo
headed this time out by musical director and arranger William Knowles. David
Cole repeats the tasty work on guitar that impressed last year and Greg
Holloway is, if memory serves, even more inventive on the drums. Yusef Chisholm holds forth again on bass. Last year, White
acknowledged their work but not by name, just asking the audience to applaud
for "guitar man" or "piano man." Not so this year. Names
accompany the credit where credit is do.
combo and cast work on a fairly bare stage. A two-step platform on the stage
gives White a pedestal on which to pose as Pearl and, later, an area for two chairs so
that White and Hubbard can execute a nifty sitting tap and soft shoe routine.
Steps down to the audience level on both sides of the stage let both White and
Hubbard work the crowd, stirring up the enthusiasm and sharing an occasional
brief dance with a patron. This year Janine Sunday gets credit for costume
design and White shines first in blue and then in white that allows her smooth
skin to set off her sparkling necklace with flare.
Book by Roz White and Thomas W. Jones II. Story concept by
Roz White. Directed by Thomas W. Jones II. Music direction and arrangements by William Knowles. Design:
Janine Sunday (costumes) Kevin Laughon (properties)
Jessica Lee Winfeild (lights and stage management)
Colin Hovde (photography). Cast: William Hubbard, Roz
White. Musicians: Yusef Chisholm, David Cole, Greg
Holloway, William Knowles.
Running time 1:15 - no intermission
A pleasant hour or so of song and skit
Price $45 - $50
MetroStage comes back for a
second helping of 'Pearl Bailey'
By Barbara Mackay
November 27, 2009
You may have seen
"Pearl Bailey ... By Request" before, when it played Alexandria's MetroStage last October.
But some musicals are like Thanksgiving
dinner: So full of tempting dishes it's easy to enjoy them again and again,
year in and year out.
"Pearl Bailey ... By Request" is that
kind of musical, offering classic numbers that never get boring, especially
when delivered by the powerful singer Roz White.
White developed the story concept for
"Pearl Bailey" and wrote the book with Thomas W. Jones II, who
directs the show. The majority of the musical dwells on Bailey's successes in
the music world, the songs she made famous and her appointment as America's
"Ambassador of Love" by President Nixon. Bailey makes some passing
references to difficult social moments in her life, but they are treated as
minor bumps along the way, nothing to dim the bright lights of success.
Like Bailey, White is skilled at creating a
connection between herself and the audience, walking from the stage down into
the audience to mingle, talk and dance. There are a few tables set up in front
of the stage, so the theater feels like a club, the intimate atmosphere in
which Bailey was most comfortable.
White interacts well with the dynamic
four-piece band onstage, comprised of piano (William Knowles), bass (Yusef Chisholm), guitar (David B. Cole) and drums (Greg
Holloway). Under Knowles' direction, the band offers jazzy new interpretations
of some old favorites, including "Frankie and Johnny,"
"Personality" and "Legalize My Name."
William Hubbard, who
plays the emcee and trumpeter Hot Lips Page, is onstage much of the time,
dancing with White in Bailey's famous numbers "The Hucklebuck"
and "Takes Two To Tango," and acting out the part of Bailey's
husband. But the show belongs to White. Stunning first in a sapphire and
rhinestone dress and then in a white gown (by Janine Sunday), White uses a few
props -- a fox stole, a huge feathered hat, a champagne glass -- to create a
sense of an era that will never be duplicated and a woman who will never be
Request ‘Pearl’ for the holidays
By David Hoffman
Tuesday, November 24,
Pearl Bailey is back -- and this Pearl sparkles in the moonlight.
"Pearl Bailey ... by
Request" reconnects us with the great singer, who died in 1990 after
bringing so many magical musical moments to life. And that's the magic on view
again at MetroStage, where show business legend Pearl
Mae Bailey is reborn and personified by the shape-shifting skills of Roz White.
slips effortlessly from sashaying sexpot to soulful balladeer, with several
forays into the audience to dance with a lucky few. Her standout performance
ranges from a jazzy-bluesy feel, to swinging nightclub-style.
are scheduled to through Dec. 20. This is one for the family, as well as anyone
who has a love of music.
one of Bailey's songs says, "You've got to have personality," and
this show has it in abundance. Just consider the songs you'll hear channeled
through White, who thought of this tribute to Bailey and cowrote
it with Thomas W. Jones II. One demonstration of that personality is found in
"Hello Pearly," taken from the all-black revision of "Hello
Dolly" that the acclaimed songstress brought to the Broadway stage and to
a Tony award in the late 1960s. Other great songs are featured, too, such as
"Frankie and Johnny," "Takes Two to Tango," "That's Good Enough for Me," "Ain't
She Sweet" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside."
show ends on a triumphant note with "Won't You Come Home Bill
Bailey," including a special riff on that number with her costar, William
F. Hubbard. Hubbard relives his role as Bailey's emcee and sometime recording
costar, Hot Lips Page, when they join together in a rib-tickling "Won't
You Come Home Pearl Bailey" and segue into yet another magical duet.
Hubbard stars also as the sly butt of her humor and her amiable straight man,
who knows full well that the shortest and surest distance between their two
points of view is the beeline for the funny bone. And to watch them together
singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is to
watch what makes birds and bees multiply -- in a sexy appeal shot through with
a broad streak of self-mocking humor.
can't see this shining "Pearl"
and not grin. It's the perfect holiday tonic, at just the time when you'll need
it the most, after the turkey has been devoured and family and friends have