Like Jazz

REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- You don't have to be a jazz lover to enjoy LIKE JAZZ, the bright, bubbly tribute to the miracle of jazz hatched up by composer Cy Coleman, lyricists Alan & Marilyn Bergman, and writer Larry Gelbart. The show, a world premiere, opened recently at the Mark Taper Forum for a two-month run that will undoubtedly lead to other national and international productions. Featuring an 18-piece band, five lead singers backed up by a 10-person ensemble, LIKE JAZZ takes a loving look at the varied aspects of jazz, with Harry Groener narrating in brief, deft fashion, leaving it to the music to make the main points.

This is where LIKE JAZZ differs from other similar shows. Instead of dusting off and remounting beloved jazz standards, it takes a chance and offers all-new songs--18 of them, written specifically for LIKE JAZZ by Coleman and the Bergmans. Their work is not only generous but distinctive, capturing the essence of jazz convincingly, lovingly. The Bergmans' lyrics are of the highest order: literate, deep, moving; and Coleman's sophisticated score (which investigates everything from swing and Afro-Cuban to bossa nova) benefits from the dynamic orchestrations by Alan Broadbent, Bob Florence, Tom Kubis, Roger Neumann, Don Sebesky and the late Peter Matz. (The latter's arrangement of the comic song Cheatin' was, alas, his last).

LIKE JAZZ also succeeds because of its singers, notably Patti Austin, Lillias White and Jennifer Chada, who light up the stage time and time again with their captivating renditions of such songs as He Was Cool (about a sexy sax player), Being Without You (blues) and The Double Life of Billy T. (a bittersweet ballad about the transvestite piano-player, Dorothy Lucille Tipton). Jack Sheldon also delivers two key songs, Don't Touch My Horn and A Little Trav'lin Music (whose complex vocal demands were a struggle for him). Cleavant Derricks scored with his Latin-tinged solo, In Miami.

Smartly put together by Gordon Davidson and choreographer Patricia Birch, LIKE JAZZ is backed by the technical brilliance of designers D. Martyn Bookwalter (set & lights) and Judith Dolan (costumes), plus the rear-projection work of Marc I. Rosenthal and Adam Davidson. The combination of razzle-dazzle with creative and interpretive flair makes LIKE JAZZ the triumph it is.

Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. For tickets & info call (213) 628-2772 or visit