This Joint is Jumpin’ is a show layered with reverence for its subject matter – the legacy of Fats Waller and his massive influence on the music scene in the twentieth century. A veritable feast of musical opportunity, exercised by a wickedly talented ensemble that know their material through and through – a tantalising experience, no doubt.
Deep beneath the ground floor of The Other Palace, Lord Weber’s newest project, the Studio space houses an intimate assortment of tables and chairs, replete with bar – a cabaret space, in essence, ideal for musical performance and rendition. There was something almost subversive about the space, a form of exclusivity and intimacy rarely found at other London venues that can often feel squeezed into the dense architecture of city – here, around Victoria’s new building developments, there was certainly a greater degree of freedom.
The hundred and ten minute runtime, stuffed with Waller hit after hit, was almost entirely absent on plot – a few remarks about needing to make rent or face eviction, or then desire to conjure Waller’s ghost. The music was left to stand by itself, often without context or justification. Perfectly acceptable in the context of a performance, but it always felt as though the show could have gone further – embellishing these narratives with a more cohesive line and grant Waller’s songs greater clout by juxtaposing them with characters and emotions – something that has been done in a variety of existing musicals based on the works of successful performers. The only moment where this truly hit was Lillias White’s rendition of a letter Waller received during his life, describing the fear and danger created by the Clan during the 1920s. The emotional weight here was a powerful point.
The ensemble all had various moments to shine, nonetheleast the tap-dancers Michela Marino Lerman and Joseph Wiggan, who, running through an exhausting set, seemed to have an unending supply of energy. The tap sequences were certainly an exciting addition, though perhaps again could have been embedded into the music more – only during the final number did we see an extensive collaboration been tap and drums – something that could have been a way to create more energy early on.
Nevertheless, this was an exciting tribute to a wonderfully talented individual, and its run at The Other Palace presents an opportunity to immerse oneself in a powerful cultural phenomenon.