Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Ain’t Misbehavin’"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’"

The Fats Waller Musical Show
conceived and originally directed by Richard Maltby, Jr.
based on an idea by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr.
originally choreographed by Arthur Faria
orchestration and arrangements by Luther Henderson
directed and choreographed by Kent Gash
assistant director and choreographer … Byron Easley
musical direction by Darryl G. Ivey

with:

Kia L. Glover
Dwayne Grayman
Barbara D. Mills
NaTasha Yvette Williams
Joe Wilson, Jr.

Orchestra:

Conductor; Piano … Darryl G. Ivey
Alto Saxophone; Clarinet … Anthony Grant
Tenor Saxophone; Clarinet … Chuck Langford
Bass … Gary Richardson
Trumpet … Mark Sanchez
Percussion … Stanley Swann
Trombone … Edson Worden

Ever since my college days, when my first director changed the ending of my first play without my knowledge or permission (I found out the hard way, i.e. sitting in the audience), I am wary of (most) directors and approach their productions of established plays or musicals never knowing what to expect. Last September, I attended AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ at the Huntington, not having seen the show, before, and came away wondering how and why did this showcase of Thomas “Fats” Waller’s songs ever win a Tony Award for Best Musical in its day --- after seeing Trinity Repertory’s joyous production I realize that my disappointment lay not with the show itself but with the Huntington concept which set Mr. Waller’s bawdy, sassy, tender songs in a 1940s Harlem rent party complete with a non-singing supporting ensemble rather than treating AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ as the pure-and-simple revue that it is (was this Huntington’s attempt to make it a legitimate musical?); since Act One ends with a gun shot being fired at the ceiling and Act Two has a solo about getting high and closes with the heartfelt “Black and Blue”, the Huntington director, no doubt, felt obliged to expose the supposedly sad underbellies of the high-stepping celebrants (do African-Americans have the Pain, anymore?) --- it was, to be kind, a downbeat evening.

Trinity Repertory itself is no stranger when it comes to tampering with the classics, as their recent productions of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR and WEST SIDE STORY will attest, but when I saw a lone player piano sitting on an old-fashioned thrust proscenium stage ringed with light bulbs above and below and when I saw but a quintet of names in the AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ cast list --- two men, three women, as in the original Broadway production --- I began to relax. And when Kia L. Glover, Dwayne Grayman, Barbara D. Mills, NaTasha Yvette Williams and Joe Wilson, Jr., all shapes and sizes, appeared in hot-house colors to deliver such standards as the title song, “’T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”, “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Mean to Me”, the good times began and continued straight through to the curtain call with its seven encores. The songs are the same ones that were performed at the Huntington but are now free of all directorial commands save for the one to be entertaining; rather than gather all these songs into another concept bouquet, director/choreographer Kent Gash, who staged North Shore’s award-winning production of PACIFIC OVERTURES, last season, lovingly treats each song as a long-stem rose with its own comedy or drama (perfume or thorns); thus, no explanation is given or needed when a radio program is re-enacted or when the ensemble praises the charms of the Waldorf Hotel or when a drunken couple accuse and counter-accuse each other or when, finally, the quintet sits and sadly, gently, tells the audience their racial woes --- even that Act One gunshot, the Snake in this musical Eden, is treated as no more than excessive high spirits; the Garden remains unfallen.

The Messrs. Grayman and Wilson and the Mss. Glover, Mills and Williams are equal portions of gold and brass, separately and together, and are blessed with superhuman voices that can wail, shout, croon and sound as fresh at the end as at the start of the evening with the street-majestic Ms. Mills all hands-on-hips tartness and the dapper Mr. Wilson stopping the show with “The Viper”, his bare-chested homage to reefers, a hypnotic combination of muscle, sweat and a slinky, drugged grace as dangerous as it is alluring. Darryl G. Ivey, not at all fat as Mr. Waller’s surrogate, begins alone at that upright but is joined by his superb orchestra half-way through Act One --- no explanation is necessary for their sudden appearance: here’s the singers, there’s the band, Mr. Waller is alive and well for the next two hours and everyone goes home, happy. What was the Huntington thinking?

The winter holidays may be a few months away but as far as I’m concerned they have already begun with Trinity’s wonderful gift to the fall season. Come celebrate.

HELP SAVE BOSTON’S HISTORIC GAIETY THEATRE!

"Ain’t Misbehavin’" (3 September-10 October)
TRINITY REPERTORY COMPANY
201 Washington Street, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401) 351-4242

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