Christopher Jackson became a star as George Washington in Broadway’s “Hamilton.”
Now, he stars in Signature Theatre’s “After Midnight” streaming now through Aug. 4.
“‘After Midnight’ is a celebration of Duke Ellington music, along with some of Langston Hughes’ most important words … of the Harlem Renaissance,” Director and Choreographer Jared Grimes told WTOP. “Just those two legends, bringing them together and finding a commonality in what Ellington’s lyrics meant alongside what Hughes’ words meant.”
Which influential Ellington songs might we hear in the show?
“If there was a greatest hits CD, album, cassette tape, Spotify, it would be what we have,” Grimes said. “You’ll hear ‘Take the A Train,’ ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,’ ‘Black and Tan Fantasy,’ ‘A Gal from Joe’s,’ ‘Braggin’ in Brass,’ I could go on and on about it, but even if you might not recognize a song like ‘World on a String,’ you know the lyrics. That’s the power of Duke Ellington.”
These songs are paired with Hughes’ powerful prose.
“His works displayed in ‘After Midnight’ are just scratching the surface of what he was about,” Grimes said. “I’ve never really limited him to just words; he is a movement unto himself. He is inspiration, he is hope, he is faith — and that’s before he even puts pen to pad or pencil to paper. … Don’t even think necessarily about what’s being said, think about how it’s making you feel.”
It’s all brought to life by the powerful force that is Christopher Jackson.
“C.J. is so busy being the megastar that he is, so I called him up like, ‘Whatcha doing? I’ve got two weeks to try to pull this off and weave it into your schedule,'” Grimes said. “He jumped at the opportunity. His energy is almost like a sporting event. He brings power. He brings impact to Langston Hughes’ work. … Christopher Jackson just bum-rushed it in such a glorious way.”
Sharing the stage is local favorite Nova Payton, a regular at Signature Theatre.
“Those are two all-stars right there,” Grimes said. “I’ve been working with Nova for the past couple of years. I’m in constant awe of how she just lifts not only a room and a group of people out of the stratosphere and into a magical place, but her understanding of detail without having to say much is out of this world. … It also speaks to her understanding of the human nature behind the arts.”
The show is conceived by Jack Viertel with music direction by Mark G. Meadows.
“It’s a wild ride, it opens up your heart and it humbles you to the many different things that music allows us to be and the many different things that music puts us on a journey for,” Grimes said.