A boozy, smoke-filled club in upper Manhattan amidst the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties (referred to as the Jazz Age) is the setting of Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz’s rousing revue “Ain’t Misbehavin.” With songs by legendary pianist and composer Thomas “Fats” Waller – the musical pays tribute to the arts and cultural explosion in Harlem spanning the 1920’s and 1930’s, also known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Ken Page, who starred in the original Broadway production returns, but this time serving as director in McCoy Rigby’s 2017-2018 season opener. Page was in the audience Saturday night and received huge applause for his impeccable staging and direction in this rather unique musical. With no scripted dialogue, the five gifted singers use only Waller’s songs to retell stories rich in history, culture and social significance.
The quintet is led by Frenchie Davis, Thomas Hobson, Boise Holmes, Amber Liekhus and Natalie Wachen. Each artist, whether performing their own vignette or collectively as a group display soul-touching spirit that will enlighten all your senses. Davis, is also no stranger to the production having portrayed “Nell” previously on the 2008 national tour.
Leading the group of talented musicians is musical director, Lanny Hartley, who also takes center stage tickling the ole’ ivories. The super-talented orchestra recreates the smooth rhythms as effortlessly as the jazz great himself.
Waller wrote over 400 songs throughout his successful career – many of them included here. His music paints a vivid picture into the past. For example, the song “When the Nylons Bloom Again” speaks of the real-life shortage of stockings during World War II. Similarly, “Cash For Your Trash” references the efforts on scrap recycling around the same period. The song “Vipers Drag” is as intoxicating and mischievous as the title implies and the haunting “Black and Blue” delves into racial identity and classification with a poignant message still relevant today.
Stephen Gifford’s Art Deco set featured a proscenium, lavish curtains and old photographs of Waller and Terry Hanrahan’s props including tables in front of the stage recreated the quintessential look of a dark, smoky nightclub.
From the head wear to faux fur accents, no details were forgotten by costume designer Shon LeBlanc. They also highlighted the artistry of Eb Bohks time-appropriate makeup and wig designs. Every look represented the decade perfectly.
The choreography by Jeffrey Polk were both exuberant and well-executed. From swing to jive, the high-energy routines will guarantee to have you shimmying in your seats.
In fact, the showmanship behind McCoy Rigby’s “Ain’t Misbehavin” is second to none. Like Waller’s classic songbook, this production will also enrich lives and create a lasting impression of the iconic sights and sounds of days gone by.
“Ain’t Misbehavin” is playing at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts now through October 8, 2017. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or Order Online.
Photos courtesy of Michael Lamont