People hoping to get a taste for a Ray Charles performance might be a little disappointed as Movin’ Melvin Brown steals the limelight from the man he is attempting to pay homage to.
Brown brought his dancing shoes along for the show, and he sure knows how to move. King of tap, he is a dynamo onstage combining complex, fast-paced tap dancing with some cheerful arm flapping and toe-tapping twirls. His shoes even serve as rhythm-makers when he’s not in full swing. ‘People always ask me, can you go faster Melvin?’ he tells us - and as it turns out, he certainly can: Brown tirelessly bursts into accelerating tap to the audience’s clapping hands. And he’s certainly no young man. His relentless dynamism is impressive and infectious and he succeeds in getting the audience to their feet attempting the mashed potato and the twist. The overall experience in fact perhaps suffers from having the audience seated - although this allows for optimal view of Brown’s tap-dancing prowess.
Permanently good-humoured, Brown is incredibly likeable. However, it is the rest of the show members that let the performance down. Indeed the rest of the band (guitar, bass, keyboard and drums) seem rather non-plussed throughout the performance and his one back-up singer (we would have liked to see a traditional trio) is somewhat effaced by her positioning at the back of the stage and the fact that she is barely audible above the instruments and Brown’s singing. The rather banal nature of these other participants of the show is made particularly obvious when Brown leaves stage for some, rather too long, costume changes. On the plus side, these changes are delightful as Brown moves from classic black-and-white pinstripe suit and bow tie, to a white satin shirt and red trousers number.
The performance is punctuated with short snippets of context that Brown gives between songs. These are interesting, but illusion-shattering facts that contextualise the songs with regards to other musicians of the time. More personal context and anecdote concerning Charles would not have gone amiss. Moreover, jokes and songs about Texas seem somewhat misplaced, especially when Brown dons a cowboy hat and taps to a recorded track.
People hoping to get a taste for a Ray Charles performance might be a little disappointed as Movin’ Melvin Brown steals the limelight from the man he is attempting to pay homage to. Perhaps the show has simply been misnamed, drawing expectation away from the talents of Melvin Brown whose moves, in themselves, really are worth a watch.