James Brown died on Dec. 25, 2006, but his rip-roaring imprint continues, as witnessed by “Down Around Brown Town,” now leaping, rocking and boogieing around the El Portal’s Monroe Forum Theatre.
Created by KIN Dance Company founders Frit and Frat, this compact revue pursues bare-bones means to inventive ends. Following a Brown mini-bio (narration recorded by Blair Underwood), the cast appears in scattered tableaux. Enter fulsome Promise Marks to launch “I Feel Good” as everyone gets down and then some.
Thereafter, they traverse implied scenarios, the Brown songbook fiercely vocalized by Marks’ store owner, sizzling Frank Lawson’s crooner and statuesque Lauren Ball’s caterer. Balanchine-worthy classicism and modern dance asymmetry, Fosse-level pizazz and incendiary tap dancing show up in the mix, with the suitcase tactics of “Night Train” especially witty.
All members of the dancing corps are gifted, vivid and versatile. Kenya Williams is a human firecracker as the crooner’s girlfriend. Miles Hunter and Princess Romero attack their pas de deux with liquid lyricism. Whirligig tappers Gabe Copeland and Brett Newton, sinuous Andi Rodriguez and long-lined Kenji Yamaguchi exemplify the systemic commitment on display.
The show’s brevity, however, hinders its impact. Number piles upon showy number without always building in point, and how the garbage-can “Stomp” riff and penultimate military drill jive with the concept escapes me. Yet if “Brown Town” deserves a fuller approach than its showcase contours, it positively vibrates with, well, soul.
[For the Record, 5:05 p.m. Dec. 19: The photo caption originally identified Jeremiah Tatum as Jeremiah Fuller.]
“Down Around Brown Town,” Monroe Forum Theatre at El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 6. $25. (866) 811-4111. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.