After Midnight Review + Meeting Dulé Hill!

So, as a decent number of you know, I really enjoy live theater, especially musicals. I'm in New York to hopefully grease the wheels on a career here but since I was in town, I decided that my trip would not be complete without seeing a show.

Granted, I've been pretty good about money on this trip. My only real expenses have been transit fees and food-- and even then I've been scrimping by eating granola for breakfast, grazing on the catering platters that the companies I visited had put out, and at times skimping on lunch when not starving. I've been to New York enough times that I'm not here to shop-- I'm here to experience the city. My favorite experience to invest in is Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

While there are a long list of currently running shows I've wanted to see, I decided pretty quickly what my priority was: seeing Dulé Hill.

You're probably familiar with Dulé Hill's work, if not his name. He won two Screen Actor's Guild Awards for his role as Charlie Young on the West Wing (a role for which he was also nominated for an Image Award and an Emmy), and now he's in USA's long-running series ever, Psych, alongside James Roday as Gus, Shawn the fake-psychic/real-detective's best friend and partner-in-(solving)-crime.

He also probably stole your heart in the movie Holes.

This line is the "As you wish" of the 2000s
In addition to having excellent comedic timing, and captivating skill as an actor, Dulé is quite the singer and he's a phenomenal tap dancer. He's shown both of these amazing talents off in Psych (which I will admit to having marathoned the then-entirety of twice) in several episodes. I am a sucker for musical talent, especially vocal since singing was a big part of my life, but tap-dancing is incredibly impressive to me. Long-story short, I love Dulé and I needed to see him sing and dance live. He is currently on Broadway doing a show called After Midnight.

Shows come and go on Broadway, so if I want to see a certain show, there's a decent chance I could eventually find a production of it later, either on Broadway, on tour, or at a local theater, but actors often leave shows to work on other projects-- it's the nature of the business. An artist can't do the same thing, 8 times a week, forever. I had dreamed of seeing him live and we just happened to be in the same city, and he happened to be performing, and I happened to have the money to buy myself tickets. Stars aligned. It was Dulé or die, so to speak.

I booked tickets. Or rather, I booked the wrong tickets. After a long day of running around the city to various offices I hit the Tuesday a week after the day I intended to see the show. My 2am freak-out over blowing money on a show I wouldn't even be in town to see had a happy ending, as the good people at Ticketmaster met my frantic email with a lot of support and swapped my ticket out for same-day tickets without even charging me any fees. Much love to Ticketmaster!

The show was great. It's not plot-centric like many people are used to with shows like Wicked, RENT, or Annie. If those shows are novels, this show is an anthology of thematically cohesive poetry. By that virtue, it's also a short show: an hour and a half as opposed the the two and a half hour shows that are more typical of musicals.

After Midnight is a celebration of Harlem Renaissance culture through music and dance. There isn't really dialogue in the show, but the character work, choreography, and music really bring the mini-stories within the show to life. Every single one of the cast members, dancers, and musicians was extremely talented and well-showcased throughout the show. To me, it was a joyous celebration of Harlem Renaissance era attitudes and music, an era that was so incredibly rich, culturally, but is generally de-prioritized in a lot of school curriculum-- and a lot of people sort of close the book on that chapter of American history after that.

This show breathes life into that radical, vibrant, exciting time in America when Black artists created a movement that changed music, literature, poetry, art, and the way Americans of color were seen in society. (Don't let that short list fool you, though. It was a time of radical changes in politics of race, class, and gender, and Harlem became a center for both those who felt marginalized by the outside. It was a time when many were only beginning to find their voices.) It reinvents the era a bit for the modern age by incorporating more contemporary styles of dance (as well as some slightly anachronistic, but wonderfully expressive costumes) to really bridge the gap between then and now. The choreography was wonderful in that it communicated the stories within the music in a variety of languages, from tap dance and traditional forms of dance to breakdance and those styles more associated with recent decades. The show eases you in with a sense that you are taking a journey to the past-- but then slowly awakens you to the fact that the feelings, the joy, the life experiences and emotions expressed in the music are really very similar to life today. This show about life in a different time becomes about life in a different time.

This show was a lot of fun. It was a joy to watch and was very much an immediately gratifying experience, rather than having to keep track of all the happenings and experiencing plot-tension. Not at all to say though, that the show is shallow.The artistry of the performers as well as the choreographers, lighting designers, costume designers, set designers, original songwriters, and other creatives communicate a lot of complex ideas and complicated experiences: from falling in love, to man trouble, to the idea of actively choosing to make life a celebration. I think the show's de-emphasis of overarching plot makes it a fantastic vehicle for the artists to really showcase their craft. One of the cardinal rules of storytelling is "show, don't tell," and After Midnight's sparse speaking parts makes each character/player's story all the more dependent upon the brilliant performance of each of the artists to show us who they are and how they feel about themselves and each other. They succeed.

I also have to give a huge nod of appreciation to the costume designers. I took special not of how much I love the costumes, which really stayed true to the spirit of the era. They were all lovely, impressive, and worked so well to communicate story and character, and even enhanced the choreography.

I was very lucky to get a chance to go backstage. Actually, no that's not accurate. Lucky is having a vending machine give you two sodas when you only paid for one. I was incredibly, absurdly fortunate to be invited backstage by one of the trumpet players. It was so incredible wonderful of Bruce, not only to invite me backstage out of the blue, but to even introduced me to Dulé! Every single person I met backstage was very nice and very warm towards me, but Dulé was a dream come true! Bruce really did something so amazing and fantastic for me. I cannot thank him enough for his warmth and generosity.

To be honest, I knew he was going to be really cool (you don't develop that much talent in that many areas without being pretty damn awesome) but he was at least nine times cooler than I even imagined. He was a very sweet, nice person, who both put on no airs yet absolutely radiated charisma. He was nice enough to sign my Playbill for me.

"Harper: Thanks 4 the love."
He was wonderful. The show was wonderful. Every single one of the performers proves themselves as an artist and I had such a great time. So much love to both Dulé and Bruce, as well as all of the other performers at After Midnight.

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