Co-creators Jackie Taylor and Jimmy Tillman have devised a peppy stroll down memory lane for fans of a particular style of 1950s music performed by black singers such as Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, the Platters and the Moonglows.
The “Doo Wop Shoo Bop” cast reminds us at both the beginning and the end of the evening that this music is filled with sweet melodies and harmonies, a kind of rhythm-and-blues with jazz overtones that was — and still is — a joy to hear.
As the show makes clear in its introductory narrative, much of the doo-wop music created by black artists was quickly appropriated by white performers who proceeded to get rich off of it. “Doo Wop” co-authors Taylor and Tillman stress that such behavior in the 1950s kept most black singers from sharing in the wealth. They also throw in some fleeting but tough talk about racism that seems a bit out of place in a musical revue like this.
But the blunt discussion of the music biz’s alleged injustices quickly gives way to a parade of great songs by the era’s notable black artists. Most of the time the singers do not attempt to mimic the various artists, but rather strive to suggest the style in which each singer or group performed.
Certain artists are introduced with monologues that help set the stage. Ruth Brown (Phyllis Overstreet), for instance, claims she built the house of Atlantic Records but is still waiting to collect the money for all her hard work.
As delightful as most of the music is in “Doo Wop Shoo Bop,” the evening runs a little too long at two hours-plus. But director Taylor has staged the revue with a winning simplicity and, thankfully, a good sound system designed by Lionel Slaughter.
The cast performs on a thrust playing area in front of a four-piece band partially hidden by a scrim. The hard-working company all have fine voices, but Overstreet, as Brown, and John Steven Crowley, as the Platters’ lead singer, are especially good.
Carl Ulaszek’s simple set is dotted with a few black blocks that stand in for chairs. Virgil Sanner and Susan Harris have designed a slew of outfits appropriate to the era. Sanner’s lighting design leans heavily on shades of red and blue.