The first show of Theatre by the Sea's 75th season is Fats Waller's musical revue "Ain't Misbehavin'". The show first opened in the Manhattan Theatre on February 8. 1978 and ran for 1604 performances winning the best musical Tony Award. Five performers present an evening of rowdy, raunchy and humorous songs that encapsulate the various moods of the 1920's. The title of the show comes from the 1929 Waller song "Ain't Misbehavin'". It serves as a tribute to the black musicians of the 1920's and 30's who were part of the Harlem Renaissance, an era of growing creativity, cultural awareness and ethnic pride. It was a time when Manhattan nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were the playgrounds of high society and Lenox Avenue dives were filled with piano players banging out the new beat known as swing. Director/choreographer Ken Leigh Rogers picks the best five performers for these roles and musical director Andrew Smithson teaches them the intricate harmonies of the group numbers perfectly. The opening night audience rewards their hard work with a standing ovation at the close of the show. Bravo on a job very well done.
Producers Bill Hanney, Amiee Turner and Joel Kipper provide the highest standards for the evening with topnotch unit set, onstage band and nightclub settings. The remodeled Bistro will provide an after the show Cabaret and delicious food prepared by Duane Crowe. We first hear the music of Waller's own recording of the title song, fade in from a long-gone era as it is filtered in through the haze of filmy fabric and the dancing figures become visible accompanied by a superb five member band. The topnotch voices of the performers soar forth across the audience. The talented performers are Patrice Covington playing the Nell Carter role, Rheaume Crenshaw, Starr Domingue who is also the dance captain, David Jennings and Tony Perry. Ken gives each performer their moments to shine. Patrice is so much more than the show's token Big Girl-like Betty Boop on ecstasy, she gets the audience howling, for any number of reasons (use your imagination) with a rendition of "Squeeze Me" that transcends camp, shtick and laws in several states. What a powerhouse voice. Rheaume with her mahogany mezzo, shows her versatility by providing the musical anchor of the show's serious side with a soaring rendition of "Mean to Me". Long legged Starr has a voice that could cut through Kryptonite and throws more sex around than should be legal. Her number is "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" and she is very pretty in pink. The show rests comfortably on the broad shoulders of Tony Perry, who channels Waller's gentler era when the day's priorities were gettin' high, gettin' laid and singin' the blues when unsuccessful in these endeavors. As sensuous as his multilayered tenor can be in "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Two Sleepy People", Tony is at his most memorable in comic numbers, like a raucously skanky rendition of "Your Feet's Too Big". David shines in the double-entendre lyrics at their literally outrageous best as he puffs on weed in "The Viper's Drag". He offered a lady in the front row a puff and pulls it away from her during a laugh out loud moment. He and Tony get the audience revved up to sing along with them in "Fat and Greasy" as they walk through the audience. Ken's dances are subtle, erotically charged and totally constructed to fit his cast's capabilities where he shows himself as a sensitive, intelligent and entertaining choreographer. So for a fun filled night of outstanding and soaring music, be sure to catch "Ain't Misbehavin'" before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.