The show opens with a spotlight on a portrait of Thomas "Fats" Waller centered on an arch of cascading painted musical notes. We hear Waller's voice speaking and singing, and see lights go up on a set framed by a backlit keyboard. The keys land like a rainbow on two sets of cocktail tables set for two. The three-piece band is the upstage centerpiece in this unfolding 1930s Harlem nightclub. The five-member cast is about to share a taste of the Golden Age of The Cotton Club. It is a high energy tribute to the music of Fats Waller and the time in which he rose to fame.
The title of the show is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the characters in the nightclub who are very much seeking to misbehave as much as they may protest it in song. Though the show has only a smattering of dialogue, it is all the most clever of asides and banter. The characters and script are more defined by the song choices and order combined with their physical delivery. The asides fill dance breaks, entrances and exits with the right feel for this style. This is a show packed with character songs, swing tunes, honky tonk numbers, torch songs and dance numbers.
The great set for this Broward Stage Door production, by Sean McClelland, is shown to best advantage with lighting design by Andrew Myers. Staging and choreography by Ron Hutchins is nearly flawless. The performers are up to the challenge of Mr. Hutchins' stylized, fast-paced, and often slightly trashy choreography appropriate for this show. The only off moments are in the first half of "Honeysuckle Rose" in which a seated female continues to strain to look back over her shoulder at her suitor who is too far way, and in "Your Feet's Too Big" which is delivered to an empty chair. Costumes by Maria Ferreira are fun and spicy, and the music is well played as led by pianist and musical director Charles Creath.
As an ensemble, the cast maintains a good blend without losing individuality. Audience favorites are "The Joint Is Jumpin'," "Spreadin' Rhythmn Around," "Lounging at the Waldorf" and the title song, but there are fine moments throughout the show. By nature, the first act has more group numbers and duets, so it is in the second act that we see the performers shine as soloists.
Shaleah Adkisson has the best voice in the cast, easily handling both lovely high notes and sultry low ones. Chyrlye Anne offers an entertaining comedic quality throughout the show, and then a surprisingly well sung "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" in the second act. Paula Isabell's voice has a gutsy belter quality. Her high notes have a few rough edges, and she sometimes modifies phrasing and licks around them. She is at her best, however, in her tenderly sung "Mean To Me," proving she has more than volume to offer. Matthew D. Brooks sings and dances with skill and energy. His best solo number is "Your Feet's Too Big." His wide-eyed delivery is a wonderful counterpoint to the sly looks of male co-star Marcus Davis. Marcus Davis is the strongest dancer in the cast, portraying an oily slickness in his character. His "Viper's Drag" is one of the show highlights. This production of Ain't Mishavin' is a thoroughly entertaining evening.
Born in Harlem in 1904, Thomas "Fats" Waller began playing piano at age six. He later learned and played organ at the church at which his father was a lay minister and mother the church organist. In his teens he delivered bootleg liquor to pay for his music studies. When his mother died, he was able to support himself playing for rent parties, vaudeville acts, accompanying silent movies, and recording rolls for player pianos. His eager appetite resulted in a weight well over 300 pounds, and he became known as Fats Waller.
Fats began recording in 1922. He perfected the stride piano with his recording of “Handful of Keys” in 1929. He then developed his own style, pioneering the use of the pipe organ and Hammond organ in jazz. He wrote dozens of songs, pitching them to assorted companies for small sums of money, then went on to tour in nightclubs and perform on the radio and in films such as Stormy Weather. His fast lifestyle contributed to financial problems for which he spent occasional jail time. His love of food and alcohol contributed to his untimely death at the age of 39. His funeral was attended by over 4,000 mourners, to which the minister in attendance remarked, “Fats always did play to packed houses.”
Ain't Misbehavin' is a result of the collaboration of Murray Horwitz, now the director and COO of American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre, and Richard Maltby, Jr., lyricist for such musicals as Miss Saigon and Closer Than Ever. Maltby also contributed lyrics to Waller's “Handful of Keys” for Ain't Misbehavin'. The idea for the show was born in 1972 from the two young men's love of Fats Waller's music. In 1978, Ain't Misbehavin' was originally produced Off Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club. Later that year it moved to Broadway's Longacre Theatre; it ran for 1604 performances and launched the career of the late Nell Carter. A 1988 revival ran for another 26 weeks.
Ain't Misbehavin' is scheduled at the Broward Stage Door Theatre through May 7, 2006. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Some shows seen at the Broward Stage Door Theatres in conjunction with outside production companies are currently employing both nonunion and Equity members. Their two stages in Coral Springs as well as their 26th Street Theatre location in Ft. Lauderdale are open year round. For tickets and information, you may call 954-344-7765 or on line at www.stagedoortheatre.com.
*Indicates member of The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Inc., an independent labor union.