Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Before the current craze of jukebox musicals, there was another musical form that also didn't require a new score, not to mention a through plot or characters for that matterthe revue. One of the most decorated that has graced the Broadway stage is Ain't Misbehavin'. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's current production of this rowdy and rhythmic show features a multi-talented cast in a mounting that mirrors the 1978 Tony Award winning original.
Featuring over 30 songs with music by Fats Waller (with various lyricists), Ain't Misbehavin' is a five-performer showcase of the best from this tunesmith's varied and melodic catalogue. With styles ranging from swing, blues and jazz to torch ballads and charm songs, the show's numberswhich include "Honeysuckle Rose," "The Joint is Jumping," the hilarious "Your Feet's Too Big," the plaintive "Black and Blue" and the title numberare superior examples of songs from the 1920s to 1940s period during which Mr. Waller wrote. Whether you know them already or are experiencing them for the first time (there will likely be some of both), the songs are a delight to the ear. This revue was created by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., and is formed in a manner to aptly reflect the same style, humor and sometimes raunchy escapades of the era and African-American culture through vignettes about life and love.
Playhouse's production boasts direction and dances by Arthur Faria, who created the musical staging and choreography for the original Broadway version. The songs are presented with slick blocking, forthright attitude, comedic bawdiness, and an endearing playfulness. Though audiences now accustomed to book musicals with fully developed characters and storylines might find the show slow in spots, it's more a matter of expectation than execution.
It's really unnecessary to point out the specific strengths of any of the performers, and just say that Eugene Barry-Hill, Doug Eskew, Debra Walton, Cynthia Thomas and Julia Lema are all wonderful vocalists, high-energy dancers, first-rate comics and commendable actors. The six-piece band led by William Foster McDaniel is likewise a delight throughout.
The set is by original Broadway designer John Lee Beatty as well as Kacie Hultgren, and features a stylish art deco inspired unit piece in red, black and gold. Gail Baldoni has recreated the handsome original costumes by Randy Barcelo, and the lighting by Pat Collins has showbiz pizzazz.
Ain't Misbehavin' is one of the best examples of a revue to hit Broadway, and this entertaining production by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park showcases both the wonderful songs and a top-notch cast. The musical continues through May 29, 2010. For tickets and more information, call (513) 421-3888.-- Scott Cain