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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Review: Walking to New Orleans

Posted By on Tue, Sep 8, 2015 at 4:48 PM

click to enlarge The cast of Walking to New Orleans.
  • The cast of Walking to New Orleans.


Walking To New Orleans celebrates the work of legendary New Orleans musicians Antoine “Fats” Domino and Dave Bartholomew, who was a trumpeter and bandleader before he became producer and co-writer for some of Domino’s biggest hits. Coinciding with the premiere of the show, New Orleans City Council proclamations noted the men’s achievements, and Bartholomew, 94, attended a Sept. 2 preview at the Carver Theater, flanked by Allen Toussaint, another of the city’s legendary musician/producers.

Created by Lucky Johnson and Vincent Caruso with help from Bartholomew’s son Don Bartholomew, the show is primarily a musical revue. Shamarr Allen plays Dave Bartholomew, and his impressive horn playing is a highlight throughout the show. Al “Lil Fats” Jackson plays Domino, and he couldn’t be better suited for the gig. He resembles Domino, and he mimics Domino’s deep voice, his mannerisms and performing habits, at times hunching his shoulders above the keys and pushing the piano across the stage with the force of his body when he played standing up.

Given the string of hits Bartholomew and Domino created and the talented musicians on stage, it’s easy to enjoy the R&B showcase, and at times, Allen adds a jazzy luster. The playlist included Domino’s early popular tune, 1949’s “The Fat Man” (which some call the first rock ’n' roll song) and hits “Ain’t That a Shame,” “I Hear You Knocking,” “I’m Walkin’,” “I Want to Walk You Home” and “Walking to New Orleans.” The show also included Robin Barnes appearing as Ella Fitzgerald singing “Summertime,” and a Cab Calloway impersonator, who struggled a bit with “Minnie the Moocher.” Bartholomew worked with a great number of musicians, and Fitzgerald recorded tunes penned by Bartholomew and Domino, but it wasn’t clear how these two songs fit in the show.

click to enlarge Al "Lil Fats" Jackson
  • Al "Lil Fats" Jackson

The show also includes a vignette of Bartholomew trying to get his tune “My Ding-a-Ling” played on the radio, which a DJ rejects. Years later, the DJ plays Chuck Berry's version (with changed arrangements), which become a No. 1 hit.

Allen has stage presence, and his enthusiasm is the only thing that makes some of the vignettes palatable. The dramatic elements of the show need more structure and detail and better direction. An early scene features Bartholomew taking Imperial Records founder Lew Chudd to hear Domino perform, but the show offers few details about the subsequent timeline of Bartholomew and Domino’s work together. One scene features Bartholomew calling “Blueberry Hill” trash before he is told it has sold two million records. The scene needs some explanation, or at least some reaction from Domino, who registers none.

There are anachronisms in costumes and mannerisms, and some material isn’t well grounded. A vignette about segregation highlights the outrageous treatment black musicians endured when forced to enter theaters though back doors in order to perform in headlining spots on stage. The scene has no detail of time or place and it doesn’t get the treatment it deserves.

The show highlights the achievements of Domino and Bartholomew, but given that they sold more than 65 million records and sat atop the charts for a decade, it feels like a celebration of an era, and the addition of other popular songs — and requisite second-line through the aisles — gives the production feel-good appeal. It's an enjoyable monument to the city's rich history.

Walking to New Orleans
7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
Carver Theater, 2101 Orleans Ave., (504) 304-0460
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