The huge success of "Ain't Misbehavin' " in 1978 spawned a raft of imitations, one of the most successful of which was "One Mo' Time."
The show originally ran for several years at the Village Gate. It has been given its first Broadway appearance, directed by and starring the man who conceived it, Vernel Bagneris. Unlike "Ain't Misbehavin'," which focused on the work of a single composer, Fats Waller, "One Mo' Time" offers a range of material associated with African-American performers. My hunch is that what links the songs is that most of them are in the public domain. Some are old favorites, like "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" or the lively "Black Bottom." Others are innuendo-laden numbers, like "Kitchen Man" or "Right Key but the Wrong Keyhole."
The premise is that these songs are being performed at an old theater in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1926. The theater was part of the Theater Owners Booking Agency circuit (or TOBA - known to the performers who worked it as Tough on Black A---s). Between songs, the performers wrangle with each other and the white theater manager in scenes that are show-business clichés. "Ain't Misbehavin' " had a point of view about the way black performers had to clown to amuse white folks, which was reflected in the icy number "Black and Blue."
Here, the goal is simply amiable entertainment, which the talented cast certainly provides. Roz Ryan is particularly funny with the naughty "Kitchen Man." Rosalind Brown has kittenish charm in "He's Funny That Way." B.J. Crosby sings and dances with sparkle, especially in "Muddy Water." Bagneris has dapper charm as the song-and-dance man who has to keep the peace in this fractious, mostly female company. Wally Dunn handles the role of the short-tempered theater manager with comic assurance. There is a sensational onstage band, especially Mark Braud on trumpet and Orange Kellin on clarinet. Toni Leslie-James' costumes have great period flair, and Campbell Baird's set conveys a kind of Big Easy razzle-dazzle. "One Mo' Time" provides abundant and bouncy pleasure.
The good-natured New Orleans jazz revue ''One Mo' Time'' was an Off Broadway hit when it opened in 1979 at the Village Gate. It ran for three and a half years and begat numerous touring companies, becoming a more or less reiterative theme on the theatrical landscape. A full-fledged revival production, which first appeared at the Williamstown Theater Festival, opened on Broadway last night at the Longacre Theater. That will certainly make it the oldest show eligible for this year's Tony Award for best new musical. But otherwise there seems little reason for it to be here.
Not that the show -- which is set in 1926 at the Lyric Theater in New Orleans, a bastion of black entertainment -- is void of spirited diversions. The rags, Charlestons, cakewalks, bluesy ballads and boogie woogies of the place and period are unassailably savory. The most familiar numbers -- ''Tiger Rag,'' ''He's Funny That Way'' and ''A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight'' -- are all given worthy covers.
The whole score is played fervidly by a more than competent, if not flawless, five-piece onstage band. (The hardest-working members of the company may well be the clarinetist, Orange Kellin, who is also the musical supervisor, and the trumpeter, Mark Braud, both of whom blare the florid, frenetic and high-decibel figures of New Orleans jazz with such consistent embouchure-testing aggression that you worry for their lips. Steel chops!) In addition, the four musical performers, led by Vernel Bagneris, the show's creator and director, in a silky reprise of his role as Papa Du, the manager of a traveling musical troupe, are all vivid singers and highly professional stage performers.
Many in the enthusiastic preview audience with whom I saw the show would undoubtedly dispute my reaction, which might fairly be summarized as: ''Is that all there is?'' But by my lights ''One Mo' Time'' is a show that adds up to considerably less than the sum of its parts.
For one thing, the book -- we follow the backstage travails and shenanigans of the troupe members in between musical numbers -- has always been slim. The characters are purposeful stereotypes.
In addition to Papa Du, a wisecracking and dissembling ladies' man, there is Bertha, the requisite diva, large in more ways than one (Roz Ryan); Thelma, the ambitious ingénue (Rosalind Brown); and Ma Reed (B. J. Crosby), the aging, acid-tongued showbiz veteran who has seen it all and who has the best line in the show. Asked why she doesn't just get married and be done with the road, she snorts and replies, ''Nobody wants to marry me when I'm drunk, and I sure as hell don't want to marry nobody when I'm sober.''
That's a good example of the show's burlesque, ba-da-bum humor; the backstage repartee, arch insults about money and sex and growing old, would belong in the Catskills of yore if the reigning culture there had been black and not Jewish. It's intermittently funny; more often it's familiar and so grows tiresome.
More disappointing, the plot is never resolved, its nod in the direction of a serious issue remaining only a nod. In sum, two members of the troupe have split without warning, leaving the remaining four to dispute comically over who will take on their parts and leaving the white theater owner (Wally Dunn) threatening to void their contract. We never do find out anything about the absconded performers; nor do we learn whether the troupe gets paid.
There is some tension achieved in Campbell Baird's set design, which splits the stage between a snazzy performing space and the squalid dressing room. But the only real reference to the sinister spirit of exploitation is the theater owner's declaration to his audience that ''we provide the best in colored entertainment.'' Mr. Dunn's line reading puts ''colored'' in implicit quotation marks, just to make sure we don't miss the point.
Perhaps that mere skate across the surface of a provocative subject was more satisfying two decades ago; now it seems chintzy and chicken-hearted. And to those who would say I'm missing the point, that the intention of ''One Mo' Time'' is not provocation but pure entertainment, I'd respond that since the show made its debut (a year after its prototype, ''Ain't Misbehavin' ''), the plethora of revue shows that have followed in its wake (''Sophisticated Ladies,'' ''Smokey Joe's Cafe'' and ''Ain't Nothin' but the Blues,'' to name three) have bleached the form of its novelty and made meaning necessary to a fully satisfying theater experience, not merely gravy.
In any case, this ''One Mo' Time'' has the feel of a clone, a replica. Mr. Bagneris remains the flexible pipe cleaner he always was, the embodiment of smoooooooothe. But he is, after all, back where he was 20 years ago.
The generally estimable Ms. Ryan gives a performance that hits all the notes but doesn't feel particularly original or inspired; there isn't much in her overbearing Big Mama that hasn't been effected many, many times before. Particularly disappointing is her version of the bawdy ''Kitchen Man''; it's calculated in its physical and vocal subtlety, I suppose, but the brazen sexual innuendo of the lyrics is so underwrought in her actions that her costume does much of the work.
Ms. Crosby, who has the gift of being able to mug with her whole body, finds the physical comedy in the show better than anyone else, and she also has the most powerful musical solo in the penultimate number, the soulfully belted ''Muddy Water,'' in which she is eventually joined in potent harmony by Ms. Ryan. Ms. Brown, an appealing actor and singer with a fresh and straightforward voice that carries surprising force and elasticity, is the jauntiest and sexiest of the three women in the first act curtain closer, ''Wait Till You See My Baby Do the Charleston,'' the liveliest dance number in Eddie D. Robinson's stylish but not especially exuberant choreography.
These high spots don't disguise the show's overall redundancy, however; for a show that strives for the kind of energy and fun usually described as irresistible, it's telling that it seems longer than the two hours it is, a sign that this ''One Mo' Time'' is one too many.
The celebratory title of this black vaudeville revue, which has graduated to Broadway two decades after a successful Off Broadway run, has some uncomfortable overtones this time around. Despite the many kilowatts of musical energy expended by a talented quartet of singers matched by a red-hot jazz band, there's something a bit creaky and secondhand about this evening at the Longacre. Somehow the joint resolutely fails to jump.
The joint may be part of the problem. "One Mo' Time" first opened in New York in 1979 at the Village Gate Downstairs, a more intimate and casual space than the Longacre, which seats 1,000-plus. The show is a re-creation of an imaginary 1926 evening at New Orleans' Lyric Theater, a house on the famed Theater Owners Booking Agency (T.O.B.A., aka Tough on Black Asses). A program note informs the Lyric itself seated a maximum of 500.
Written and directed by Vernel Bagneris, who also starred, "One Mo' Time" stayed Off Broadway for a healthy run of more than three years, even as similar black-music revues, such as "Eubie" and "Ain't Misbehavin'," which slightly preceded it, and "Sophisticated Ladies," which followed, found success on the Great White Way itself. It's understandable that in reviving the show, Bagneris -- who repeats his multiple chores this time around -- would have a hankering to finally strut his stuff on Broadway.
But the new setting serves only to point up the deficiencies of "One Mo' Time." Most of the audience is at a cool distance from the heat of the performers, and the use of those head mikes -- on the shaven head of Bagneris, most noticeably -- both flattens the sound and adds a layer of artificiality that you overlook in more complex musicals.
And complex "One Mo' Time" certainly isn't: Bagneris and his three distaff co-stars play a bickering troupe of circuit players, led by Roz Ryan's imperious Bertha. At the right is a small dressing room; at left is the performing space under a partial proscenium, with the band, dubbed the New Orleans Blues Serenaders, on a riser that slides forward for the band's solos and back when the singers step to the fore. The whole has been sketched by Campbell Baird in pretty pastel colors that add an ersatz tinge to the proceedings.
Little morsels of backstage sass -- Bagneris' Papa Du is making time with both big Bertha and Rosalind Brown's younger and svelter Thelma -- alternate with onstage performances in a clunkily repetitive manner that becomes monotonous long before the show's two hours are up. Ironically, the supplementary book scenes only accentuate the flimsy feeling of the evening; a straight-up revue, coming in a half-hour shorter, probably would be more satisfying.
This isn't to say the performers don't deliver. They certainly do, both in the sketchy backstage moments and, more importantly, in their stylish musical interpretations. Bagneris performs Eddie D. Robinson's soft-shoe choreography with lovely, lithe grace; 20 years on, there may be something a little careful in his slides, but his liquid legs are still limber and he has a witty, easygoing style in his vocal performances.
Brown plays the uppity young ingenue with pleasing tartness, and nicely shows off Toni-Leslie James' pretty costumes, which are nevertheless too splendid -- and too numerous -- for a gang so short on cash they don't know where they're going to spend the night. Brown has a rich voice with a bright, tangy edge to it, and her standout solo is one of the show's few straightforward ballads, "He's Funny That Way."
Ryan has most of the evening's risque numbers, which she performs with commanding flair, rolling out the raw culinary double-entendres in "Kitchen Man" with crisp, winkingly elegant style.
Rounding out the cast is B.J. Crosby as Ma Reed, a blowzy, seen-it-all dame with a great, soulful bellow of a voice. She blazes her way through a bluesy "After You've Gone" and later duets with Ryan on a powerhouse rendition of "Muddy Water," perhaps the only occasion in an evening of more than two dozen songs in which a performance actually suggests a larger statement about the experiences of these characters or their prototypes.
The band is sublime. Fleet-fingered clarinet player Orange Kellin, the show's original musical supervisor and arranger, is back on board here, and his solos alone are practically worth the price of admission. But you wouldn't want to miss trumpet player Mark Braud's stylish ones either, or the complementary sounds of tuba player Walter Payton, Conal Fowkes at the keyboard and Kenneth Sara on percussion.
Maybe because we don't have to experience them through a few layers of theatrical artifice, the most viscerally exciting numbers are actually the band solos -- "Darktown Strutters Ball," "Tiger Rag" and "Muskrat Ramble" -- which are glorious examples of seemingly free-style but extraordinarily artful music-making. They set the toes tapping and the heart racing with a natural ease that the rest of the show struggles -- and mostly fails -- to equal.