This is a shiny show. The music, the actors, costumes, set, lighting—they just shine. This musical revue, with the book by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., and music by various composers and lyricists, is named after the song by Fats Waller (with Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf), “Ain’t Misbehavin'”.
. . . this abundance of talent will leave you breathless.
The musical is a tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and 1930s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance. Taking its title from the 1929 Waller song “Ain’t Misbehavin'”, it brings the audience to a time when nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were filled with rich white folks listening and dancing to the new beat known as swing. There was a dark side of this renaissance — African Americans were not allowed in the clubs, other than as entertainers and servers/workers. It might have been their music, but it was co-opted.
In this reincarnated nightclub in Signature’s main black box theatre, the MAX, Iyona Blake, Kevin McAllister, Solomon Parker III, Nova Y. Payton and Korinn Walfall lend their heavenly voices to a rich, soulful tribute that sparks joy and warmth in a very cold week.
The show is a kaleidoscope of color and dancing and strutting, backed by Mark Meadows as music director and pianist, Michael Bowie on bass, Carroll “CV” Dashiel III on drums, Ed Walters and Grant Langford on reeds, Kieron Irvine on trumpet, and Christopher Steele on trombone. They channeled Fats Waller and his Rhythm, never stepping on the singers’ voices while providing the structure that lets them soar.
Act I starts with a sassy, impertinent “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and ends with an adrenaline-jolt of “The Joint is Jumping.” During Act II, some old favorites of many in the audience, such as “Your Feet’s Too Big” and “Fat and Greasy” had people dancing in their chairs; and there was audience participation on Fat and Greasy. One number in Act II, “Black and Blue” gave a glimpse in what might well have been going through the performers’ minds back in the Cotton Club when they provided entertainment for the white audiences but got no respect off the stage. It is a hauntingly beautiful number.
During “The Viper’s Drag,” Solomon brought the house down with his sinuous moves; one wonders if that’s where Bob Fosse got his ideas. On “Two Sleepy People,” Ionya and Kevin were beautifully and comfortably entangled and their voices resonated together. But whether singing solo or as a group, this abundance of talent will leave you breathless.
The MAX has been transformed again into a nightclub, much as it was during ‘Jelly’s Last Jam’ and ‘Cabaret.” The small round tables, fringed lights and red velvet-seat chairs give an aura of nostalgic elegance. The costumes are elegant with tailoring that floats around the bodies and accessories that speak to opulence. The set has two large ceiling-height, red velvet panels that flank the stage proper and that just seem to glow from within.
Over the course of the two hours, the audience is treated to over 30 songs. And when the cast gathers around Mark at the piano, you almost feel bereft because you’re not part of that incandescent group. This is a show that will chase away the mid-winter blues and might even have you looking for some swing dancing classes to keep the mood going. Music revues don’t get much better than this.
Running Time: Approximately two and 10 minutes hours with one 15 minute intermission.
Information: ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show’ runs from January 23 – March 10, 2019, at Signature Theatre, Arlington, Alexandria, VA. For more information, please click here.