Musical plays tribute to Ellington


Serving as musical director of “Sophisticated Ladies” has a special meaning to Tenéh Karimu.

“Sophisticated Ladies,” which will be presentedJuly 14 to Aug. 20 at Beef & Boards Dinner Theater in Indianapolis, features the music of Duke Ellington.

Tenéh Karimu serves as the musical director of “Sophisticated Ladies.” (Photo courtesy of Tenéh Karimu)

“I grew up listening to jazz, especially Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Dianne Reeves,” Karimu said. “I stole my mom’s Duke cassette tape, which this show has so many of the songs on, and (I) would listen to it pretty much every night. Jazz is such an integral part of the fabric of this country because it comes directly from the songs and lives of members of the African Diaspora, specifically survivors of American chattel slavery. I am so honored to be a part of this production with this inimitable cast and team.”

The Indianapolis resident has never seen the show. Karimu said this is the first time the show has been performed in Indianapolis since the 1980s. 

“So, for me, and quite a few people this will be our first time experiencing this,” said Karimu, who is leading an eight-person orchestra.

This is the 100th year anniversary of when Ellington moved to New York City to perform. Act I examines Ellington’s early days at the Cotton Club through his widening acceptance abroad, while Act II explores the private man as captured in his music

“We have a smaller ensemble than other productions, but that simply gives all of our folks more time to shine and bless us with their gifts,” Karimu said. “I’ll be on the keys and conducting. I took a bit of a break between my last show (‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’) and this one, but I plan on this production being a springboard of sorts for more performing, for me, as well as the rest of the team.”

Karimu’s pervious Beef & Boards’ experience was performing in the Live Theatre for Kids productions in 2017 as Dr. Wink in “Pinkalicious.”

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