[Dixielandjazz] Pearl Bailey

Robert Ringwald rsr at ringwald.com
Mon Nov 30 11:30:51 PST 2009

     Date: Sat Nov 28, 2009 5:19 pm ((PST))
This 'Pearl' Is Sure to Please the Eye -- and Ear
Roz White and company reinvigorate Bailey's signature songs, style
by Celia Wren
Washington Post, 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 performance.
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. Louis Blues.")
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 Janine Sunday.
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.

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