Patrons casually sip drinks at tables that surround a minimalist stage. The lights go off, then on, and the show that follows is, quite simply wondrous. And exhilarating, awe-inspiring, soothing and revivifying. Welcome to a world occupied by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Art Blakey.
“Waking,” conceived by Philip Owen DRA ’09, showing this Friday and Saturday at 8 and 11 p.m. at the Yale Cabaret (217 Park St.), celebrates the tunes of these as well as other great master musicians and “kings” of the jazz era. Subtitled “music with a play,” the production, which includes swing dancing, showcases different kinds of playing, both literal and figurative, but above all it melodiously panegyrizes the exaltation that comes from simply humming and dancing. Ultimately it comes out as a jewel of entertainment and, because it exudes fun and envelops us in a different era, it constitutes a palliative relief from the times of economic duress we currently traverse.
The play presents a series of vignettes interspersed with jazz music magnificently played by the fabulous live band Pearl City. The narrative thread centers on a grandpa (Traí Byers DRA ’11) telling his grandson (Andrew Kelsey DRA ’11) about his youth, and about how in his day and age music was a part of everyday life and provided relief from the harsh times through which people were going. But rather than merely tell the grandson and show the audience some of his memories, as well as even some of his own grandfather’s, the grandpa asks his son, and us, to “listen” to the airs of his era.
And listen we do. The story begins in earnest with the band members, thus announced by the grandpa, processing with their brass instruments (including a sousaphone!) onto the stage. All don elegant tuxedos and classy gelled hair. After they take their places at the back of the stage, where they will remain clearly in view throughout the piece, they treat us to an exquisitely enjoyable jazz number complete with trumpet and saxophone solos. What follows only gets better.
The play deserved its long ovation, unusual for a Cabaret show that can only accommodate a small audience. As the grandpa opens his grandson’s eyes to wonder and beauty, he invites us to do likewise. You will laugh. You will want to dance along. You will not want to leave. But mostly, you will come away with the feeling that perhaps, at the end of the day, despite it all, we still live in an oh so “wonderful world.”