Second Generation Artistic Director Victor Maog recently introduced me to an iconic member of the entertainment industry with the preface: “You are going to love this man. He dreams and then makes it happen!”
Maog was referring to Otis Sallid, who is an actor, producer, writer, dancer, artistic director, mentor and charmer. He’s so charming that I suspect he could make the “Mona Lisa” smile.
Sallid, the creator of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, is getting big buzz on his new, seriously sexy, red-hot musical, “Big Otis Jump Up Blues Revue,” currently playing at Ginny’s Supper Club (nestled inside Marcus Samuelsson’s chic and popular Red Rooster Harlem).
Sensuality frames the music of Big Joe Turner, Julia Lee, Duke Ellington, LaVern Baker and Nellie Lutcher. Steeped in the tradition of speakeasy culture, which was born during the first Harlem Renaissance, Sallid’s musical features numbers that were extremely popular on the underground circuit but rarely made it into popular culture.
These songs cleverly hid “grown-folk talk” about sexuality, female empowerment and sexual orientation and relied on the strength of the performer to drive the naughty life lessons home.
The strength of Harlem’s “Big Otis Jump Up Blues Revue” is in the high-voltage performances of the slick-as-ice dancing poppas, hip-shaking, well-endowed mommas and Saturday night boogie-woogie men.
These magic souls push back time; the cast includes Eugene Fleming (“Billy Elliot: The Musical”), Lillias White (“Fela!” “Hair,” “Dreamgirls”), Grammy nominee Támar Davis, Roz Beauty and Milton Vann.
Special mention must go to the musical prowess of piano man Steven A. Taylor and the inspiring vocal direction of Contrella Patrick-Henry.
It’s not a perfect show, but it’s close. The first act could use some restructuring so that it can give a firm nod to the era. Simply having a vintage radio show from that era playing as the audience is being seated and a copy of the New York Amsterdam News from that week on each table while projecting black-and-white images from Harlem’s hey day could tighten the show without adding additional dialogue. Just a thought.
Here are some tips: Book early, and don’t sit at the bar. The cocktails (shaken, not stirred) are poured by expert mixologists, and you won’t be able to enjoy the things that make “Big Otis Jump Up Blues Revue” a solid choice.
“Big Otis Jump Up Blues Revue” runs Thursday, Aug. 22 and Thursday, Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 212-421-3821 or visit www.ticketfly.com, www.ginnyssupperclub.com or www.bigotisbluesrevue.com.