Backstage at Da Fonky B - A New Orleans Soul Musical
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
August 12, 2006
Backstage at Da Fonky B is a show that deserves a higher caliber of production. Billed as "a New Orleans soul musical," and written and directed by Alycya ["The Genie"] Miller, with music and lyrics by Miller and Darlyne Cain, it seems primed to be a glitz-and-glamour high-energy extravaganza.
Instead, this is a lower-key, enjoyable but problematic show telling the story of scandal and friendship in a New Orleans strip club. Talk show hostess Brownie Glendale is being interviewed by shnooky reporter Nathan James about what really happened back at Da Fonky B strip club. This leads to flashbacks, complete with dance numbers involving Brownie's best friend, Lolli, who Brownie describes as "a statue of liberty for no-gooders."
Perhaps the low lighting is supposed to convey a dark, dank, strip club feel, but this particular production of the play misses out on conveying a hot, sizzling "this is where the action is" feeling. Add to this a host of technical flubs (lighting issues, music going on too soon or too late—possibly just opening night flubs that will disappear by the next performance), and this production simply feels too small. There is a moment in which Brownie is supposed to be drinking alcohol and instead is using a water bottle, which cheapens the production and detracts from any kind of gritty backstage feeling.
Like some other stories of good-girl-comes-to-the-big-town, this is one in which the secondary character, Lolli, is saucier and more interesting than the main character. Nedra Ne'Quan, who plays Lolli, is truly a star. She is fully committed, dances like she knows what she's doing, and looks like she's having a great time. She was clearly born to be onstage. When Ne'Quan is up there, something is always happening. She also earns congratulations for executing an impressive split wearing spiked high heels.
But otherwise, while there are four choreographers listed in the program, the dancing doesn't seem as inspired as the dancing in a musical about dancers ought to be.
The story itself takes a while to get started, as James and Brownie chat for a bit too long in a way that seems unfocused. Again, this was opening night so it's typical for pacing to be slower than it will be in future performances, but this is a storyline that could have kept the audience filled with anticipation and feeling like we're getting an inside look at the underbelly of another world.
One of the things that does work here is the banter between Lolli and Brownie. They are completely believable in their sisterly friendship and camaraderie. There are references to vaudeville and burlesque, in particular, with the style of patter the girls tend to get into with each other.
Overall, Backstage at Da Funky B is a decent show that just needs to be jazzed up with a faster, glitzier, tighter production.