Don’t Play Us Cheap

CheapOriginal Broadway Cast, 1972 (Stax, 2LPs) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) This Melvin Van Peebles musical is as different from his earlier Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death as it could be. Though plotless, the earlier show is dramatic and intensely theatrical, whereas Don’t Play Us Cheap tells a friendly, comical story of two imps who give their souls to the devil. Before they can qualify as full-fledged demons, they must prove their skills by wrecking a party; so they crash a Harlem affair, but their efforts to create mayhem are complicated when one imp falls in love with a young woman who’s throwing the party. The numbers embrace jazz, blues, gospel, pop, and R&B. The cast album, originally released as a two-LP set, contains the entire score, including seven instrumental selections. Unfortunately, the songs don’t function dramatically, and the piece is too loosely constructed to have any real impact. The imps are played by Joe Hughes, Jr. and the legendary Avon Long, the latter charming as ever in his only solo, “The Phoney Game.” Esther Rolle and Rhetta Hughes are heard as the women who give the party. — David Wolf