REVIEW: AIN’T MISBEHAVIN

at Town Hall Arts Center

by Mona Lott

When it comes to the Fat’s Waller musical conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr and Murray Horwitz, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and after seeing the current production playing at Town Hall Arts Center, “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling.”  

The well-loved musical was mounted several times before a made for television production of the show hit the airwaves in 1982, starring the original cast. The original cast was so good that they left an indelible mark on the show, especially Nel Carter who won a Tony for her performance in 1978. It’s hard to hear and see anyone other than the originals in the piece, but the cast at Town Hall featuring Leonard Barrett Jr., Randy Chalmars, Mary Louise Lee, Rajdulan and Krisangela Washington does a winning turn at stamping their own interpretations on the show.  

The show has almost no dialogue and instead relies almost exclusively on the music and lyrics of Fat’s Waller. Waller was a well-known composer of the tin pan alley days and a favorite musician of the Harlem Renaissance.  Having taken to the piano at the age of 6 Waller became a music prodigy of sorts excelling in “stride piano.” A humorous character in his own self, Waller was known for his witty asides and comments and eventually featured in several Hollywood films including Stormy Weather alongside Lena Horne.

Waller’s humor and fun-loving spirit is the jumping off point for Ain’t Misbhavin’ and the cast does a good job bringing the spirit of the Cotton Club to Town Hall as they revive the song that the show’s title came from. With music this enjoyable and entertaining it’s obvious that this cast is having fun and plans to bring the audience along for the ride. The asides and audience interaction almost become too much though as it’s rather pointedly aimed at particular audience member rather than thrown out with abandon and pulls us out of the shows environment so beautifully created by scenic designer Michael R. Duran and lighting designer, Jacob Welch. Three songs in and the cast is hitting their stride with ‘TAin’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do and Christopher Page-Sanders’
choreography is spot on in recreating the period and reinforcing what we would have seen on the dance floor of a 1930’s supper club.   

Sanders’ choreography is especially good during the slinky and slithery rendition of The Vipers Drag, performed with expert control by Chalmers who has his moment to shine during the song.  Lee gets the honor of singing Mean to Me, a soulful, heartbreaking ballad performed so brilliantly by the original cast member Nel Carter, that It’s almost impossible not to compare the two. Lee surpasses the challenge though and it’s a gorgeous moment in the second act when she glides through the song motionless. She is definitely a stand out in the show with several featured moments including the delightful, Cash For Your Trash and the cheeky Honeysuckle Rose performed with Barrett.  

As the only other male in the cast, Barrett gets the opportunity to show his comedic side with a robust and funny presentation of Your Feet’s Too Big.  Washington proves to have a very pretty voice with her warm and sincere delivery of Keeping Out of Mischiev Now. Rajdulari holds her own, rounding out the cast with her version of Squeeze Me and a very amusing duet with Lee on Find Out What They Like.  

Most notable moment in this production though comes during the second act when the cast all mount stools and showcase some gorgeous harmonies during the mournful and solemn Black and Blue. The dual meaning is not lost and the cast performs as one, sounding gloriously reverent.   

Mentionable though is the lack of head mics in this show. Having become a staple, even on Broadway, old board treading actor’s lament the days of when they had to be proficient in projection and diction filling a theater without the aid of technology. Here the show suffers as it’s painfully obvious that the young cast has become accustomed to amplification provided by electronic means with much of the show hard to hear.  

No production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ is successful without the aid of a talented and immensely skilled expert pianist and here the Town Hall is lucky to have well-known local Donna Kolpan Debreceni tinkling the ivories. Her musicianship is constantly in focus as the on-stage band is held in tempo with her outstanding leadership. The Band featuring Jon-Paul Frapper, Rob Olds, Larry Ziehl, Bob Rebholz and Scott Alan Smith adds so much to the production and never falters.  

As it stands, director Bob Wells can pat himself on the back for a job well done. He has pulled together a team that made for one of the most enjoyable experiences in a theater in some time. The show is lively, fun, entertaining and skillfully performed.  Town Hall Arts Center has been successful in doing a whole lot more than just “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around” and you can believe that statement because “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie.”

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN is entertaining audiences now thorugh June 17th the Town Hall in Littleton, CO. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (and 2 p.m. on 6/2 and Sundays at 2 p.m. (and 6:30 p.m. on 6/10). For tickets or more information, contact the Town Hall Box Office by calling 303-794-2787 ext. 5 (Monday – Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1 Hour prior to Shows) or on-line at townhallartscenter.org/misbehavin.  In a continuing effort to make plays at Town Hall Arts Center accessible to all, ten value seats at $10 each will be made available on a first-come-first-served basis one-hour prior to each published curtain time.

 

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