Thomas W. Jones II is older and grayer than when I saw his show 25 years ago but The Wizard of Hip is just as poignant and entertaining as he struts his stuff and delivers bucket loads of amazing life-observations.
No one delivers lightning bolts of truth like Jones, and here is an opportunity to listen and watch his antics with glee.
As Afro Jo, Jones busts plenty of moves, playfully grasping an oxygen mask to reflect the passage of years, but he gets it done and in fine form. The “Lady Doo Wops” Jasmine Eileen Coles and Kanysha Williams add excitement and cackling energy from their whomping and hip-thrusting charged opening, offering commentary, depicting various characters, gorgeous vocals and facial expressions to die for. Their doe-eyed, head shaking, periodic refrain—“Now, that’s just sad” speaks volumes as Afro Jo careens around trying to find his place in life.
Jones shares his take on growing up in Queens in the 1970’s with musical references to James Brown, Watusi dance steps, and all the bee-bopping imaginable. His Catholic school upbringing is a sharp divide from the seething undertow of hormones that nearly capsize him at any opportunity. Even before any actual girls come into play, there’s the uhm, “equipment” that he tries to keep in check, like, What’s he supposed to Do with all that?!!
Knowing Tom, there’s lots of sexual innuendoes—actually that’s too demure a reference to where Jones goes. He’s all the way live in the sexual mores department, down to the grope and contorted swagger, continual deference to it, even a bit about naming his “buddy.” He eventually finally figures out that he’s supposed to be doing something with it—that’s where girls come in. His hilarious pantomime closing the 1st Act clutching an imaginary dance partner, trying hard to hold her nether region close is a funny reminder of the body thrusts and tugs that went on in dark dank basements just barely outside of parental supervision. Ah, the memories…
The Wizard of Hip
closes September 17, 2017
Details and tickets
Jones’s renditions of family relationships also hit a sweet mark where he depicts the hallmark tirades of frustrated, tired Moms, making many of us feel like alumni from “Mommy U.” He nails it, just as he does spot-on impressions of Sidney Poitier, the Denzel of the day, with some stiff-backed funky dance moves. Yes, Poitier really did bust some moves all those years ago, and Jones has the footage of two legendary movies to prove it– “To Sir, with Love” and “Lilies of the Field.” Jones notes the remarkable achievements of these films and Poitier’s accomplishments with such humor that the historical lessons slide into spasms of laughter in a pure Jones style and delivery concoction.
They’re off to see the wizard indeed, yellow brick road and all that projection designer Robbie Hayes brings to life along with skylines, historical notables, and urban grit all cast on the ever-present brick back wall.
The delightfully delicate touches of William Knowles, the show’s music director on keyboard accompanied by Greg Holloway on percussion are all over the piece as he mixes groovy old classics with original jazzy riffs. Knowles adds the oh so important stylistics to the mix because that’s where Jones is coming from—a heartfelt (and funny as hell) quest to become the man he was meant to be, and he’s shaped by the music and messages of his formative “wonder” years.
The second Act starts with Jo continuing his sexual quest but settles more into questions of identity and purpose. Interestingly, he scoots past any reference about being part of a meaningful couple and zooms straight to fatherhood to ask poignant questions about life, purpose and being. Here’s where Jones renders some of the most eloquent passages as he comes to grips with being a father and letting go of being his Mom’s son with her passage. Very tender.
Some of the projections hint at the issues today but the intent is clearly a personal story of experience and loss delivered by a remarkable showman. I see glimpses of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Maurice Hines in Jones’s comfort level with being onstage and even flickers of Dave Chappelle in his no-holds barred delivery. His rapid fire monologs are filled with imagination and gorgeous poetry.
Jones is a Work of Art and a Piece of Work. His near fixation on the sexual shtick can get wearisome at times, but the gems of insight are worth waiting for, as proven by the show’s extended Off- Broadway run “back in the day.” The archival footage helps set the look and tone of that era before crystal clear media and his is a pivotal and personal story that’s been excavated, not updated, a look backward rather than from a current POV. As long as those lines of demarcation are clear, it’s a slappingly funny show providing a peek into an earlier time of innocence where hardship was expected instead of tolerance as an entitlement, where leaders were assassinated rapid fire in free fall in front of our eyes which were glued to black and white images.
Wizard of Hip is a kind of time capsule glimpse of who we were and from whence we’ve come, through the zany mind of one of the most talented and creative performers around.
The Wizard of Hip (Or When in Doubt, Slam Dunk) . Written, Directed, Choreographed and Performed by Thomas W. Jones II with Jasmine Eileen Coles, and Kanysha Williams . Music director– William Knowles . Set design—Carl Gudenius and Shuxing Fan . Costume design— Michael Sharp . Lighting Design/Master Electrician — Alexander Keen . Sound design –Gordon Nimmo-Smith . Projection design—Robbie Hayes . Production stage manager – David Elias . Produced by MetroStage . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.