The new entertainment at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre combines a nostalgia trip to bygone Harlem landmarks with a tribute to a galaxy of black artists, past and present. Maurice Hines's fanciful extravaganza begins in heaven. To earn their wings, a quintet of lesser angels (Mr. Hines, Alisa Gyse, Lawrence Hamilton, Tommi Johnson, and Marion Ramsey) is dispatched to Earth to research the achievements of a procession of talents ranging from the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald to Stevie Wonder and Prince. Mr. Hines and his enthusiastic fellow performers do everything in their power to meet their celestial mentor's assignment. ``Uptown . . . It's Hot!'' reaches a natural climax in a prolonged Hines solo, a dazzling display of tap repertoire that could scarcely be labeled a routine. The other principal dancers of the troupe figure variously in the cavalcade. The remembrance dips into the show tunes of the 1930s, the big-band era of the '40s, rock-and-roll and gospel of the '50s and '60s, and musical trends of the most recent decades. The revue also occasionally samples the kind of low-down foolery made famous by comics like Pigmeat Markham (Jeffrey V. Thompson).
A swinging stage band conducted by Frank Owens keeps things moving at an almost breathless pace. Tom McPhillips designed the split-level setting, with lighting by Marc B. Weiss and glitzy costumes by Ellen Lee. If anything, ``Uptown . . . It's Hot!'' is too frantic and overreaching for its own good. The celebration could have used a tidier format, a clearer sense of direction, and somebody to turn down the volume -- though not the heat. House of Shadows Play by Steve Carter. Directed by Clinton Turner Davis.
``House of Shadows'' might be described as Chicago Gothic. The new Steve Carter comedy drama at Theatre Four pries into the murky corners and locked rooms of a fading Hyde Park dwelling occupied by an aging black domestic named Cassie (Frances Foster) and hysterical Mary Majeski (Joan Grant), the apparent mistress of the household.
Mr. Carter has a number of surprises in store for the spectator as pampered Mary and sharp-witted Cassie confront not only the ghosts that haunt them but the fresh-kid criminals bent on looting the premises. The ghosts belong to Cassie's man Aaron (Daniel Barton), the black fellow servant with whom Mary temporarily eloped, and Mary's immigrant father (Victor Steinbach), Chicago's ``king of Polish sausage.''
The Carter brew of comedy, melodrama, and fantasy runs for about 90 minutes and is performed without intermission. The author covers problems ranging from infidelity and family feuding to racial tensions. To be as persuasive as it is, the bizarre make-believe owes much to the lively Negro Ensemble Company performance staged by Clinton Turner Davis. Miss Foster gives another of her impressive portrayals as the resourcefully humorous and philosophical Cassie. Besides the previously mentioned adult players, the cast includes Teddy Abner and Raymond Rosario, who are funny and frightening as two hoodlums in the making.
The production has been well designed by Daniel M. Proett (spooky setting), Sylvester N. Weaver Jr. (lighting), and Julian Asion (costumes). Grenoldo composed the shadowy incidental music. ``House of Shadows'' is scheduled to run through Feb. 26.