The Vagabond Players’ 2nd entry in their 99th season is Ain’t Misbehavin’, a musical revue with a book by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., and music by various composers and lyricists and directed by Rikki Howie Lacewell. This toe-tapping revue is named after the song by Thomas “Fats” Waller (with Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf), “Ain’t Misbehavin,” and pays tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and ’30s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance, when swing nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were the places to be. Fats Waller is probably the most well known jazz pianist to burst onto that scene, with his stride piano playing and his fun, comedic lyrics.
I can’t think of a better place to go for an up close and personal trip back to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s, where the music is cool and this cast is sizzling.
Ain’t Misbehavin’, first opened on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre on May 9, 1978, and transferred to the Plymouth Theatre and then to the Belasco Theatre and closed on February 21, 1982 after 1604 performances and fourteen previews. The original cast members were Charlaine Woodard, Nell Carter, André DeShields, Armelia McQueen, and Ken Page, and for the Vagabond production, each cast member plays one of these original “characters.”
The setting is various nightclubs around New York City in the 1930s. A four-piece band in the center behind the performers is lit up and styled like a small jazz band in one of these NYC nightclubs. Right in front of the band, stools are set out for the singers, and off to the left there are a few chairs and tables arranged for drinking and meeting with friends when not performing at center stage. With the stage and music set, the performers are ready to strut their stuff, and boy do they ever.
The entire cast; Kevin Sockwell as Ken, Timoth David Copney as Andre, Brenda D. Parker as Nell, Michelle Harmon Bruno as Armelia, Summer Hill as Charlaine and the two Ensemble members Melissa Broy Fortson and Amber Hooper, start strong with “Ain’t Misbehavin,” and they don’t come up for air until the end of a night filled with song and dance. Another full cast highlight is “’T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do,” as is “The Joint is Jumpin’,” which closes the first Act. Brenda D. Parker as Nell is full of charisma and sass in “I’ve Got A Feeling I’m Falling,” and Sockwell’s rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose” with Parker has the swagger and resonance that is worthy of Broadway (and a Tony award)!
Copney’s turn to captivate the audience comes in “The Viper’s Drag (The Reefer Song),” in which he smoothly writhes and sidles his way around the stage in a well choreographed, danced and sung song. When Copney and Sockewell team up for “Fat and Greasy,” the result is boisterous and absurdly fun.
Even if you are not familiar with Fats Waller’s music, I highly recommend spending an evening with the Ain’t Misbehavin’ cast of characters at the Vagabond. I can’t think of a better place to go for an up close and personal trip back to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s, where the music is cool and this cast is sizzling.
Advisory: Some adult situations and herbal cigarettes are used.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs through November 23, 2014 at The Vagabond Players, 806 S Broadway, Baltimore MD 21231. For tickets call 410-563-9135 or click here.