One never knows, do one?
That’s one of Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller’s signature lines used on several occasions in the classic Tony Award-winning musical (Best Musical 1978), “Ain’t Misbehavin,” currently playing at the International City Theatre (ICT) in Long Beach.
If you love Fats Waller’s music you’ll, no doubt, love this show as it pays homage to the musician who specialized in Depression-era jazz and composed, collaborated on, or popularized dozens of hit tunes.
Ain’t Misbehavin premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1978 before landing on Broadway where it ran for four years. The show nabbed three Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards. It launched the careers of original cast members Nell Carter, Andre De Shields, Armelia McQueen, Ken Page and Charlayne Woodard.
To its credit, the musical doesn’t dwell on Waller’s struggles, or the fact that he died of pneumonia in 1943 at the age of 39. Instead, it keeps the music and Waller’s musical contributions as the focus. Waller’s music was influential during the Harlem Renaissance when both the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were the places to be and to be seen.
Ain’t Misbehavin, which closes the ICT season, is a fun, toe-tapping, two-act show. It offers 30 poppin renditions, coupled with raunchy offerings and sultry ballads, which were all part of the night scene during The Depression.
The show features five performers, two men and three women. This production, slightly different from other productions, has a shy woman walking into an old nightclub where the spirit of Fats Waller, a master of the stride piano, still lives. Her shyness is stripped as the music literally comes alive as four performers come to life and begin to easily glide in and out of such fan favorites as T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do (the first song Waller recorded), Honeysuckle Rose, Lounging at the Waldorf, Your Feet’s Too Big, Find Out What They Like and more.
The ICT production, directed by Saundra McClain, features Phillip Brandon, Niketa Calame, Amber Mercomes, Lacy Darryl Phillips, Jennifer Shelton and Dedrick Bonner, as well as a five piece band conducted by Rahn Coleman, who rocks on the piano. The cast is, no doubt, talented with each member displaying their prowess on solo endeavors, but, it's clear, Waller’s music is the star.
A versatile Lacy Darryl Phillips steals the show with a lively, creative and stunning interpretation of The Vipers Drag/The Reefer Song and Fat and Greasy accompanied by an equally impressive Phillip Brandon who also rocks on Your Feet’s Too Big and Honeysuckle Rose with Jennifer Shelton.
While the cast fades a bit on the high-stepping, show-stopping The Joint Is Jumpin, it shines with five-part harmony on the
ethereal, mournful and gut-wrenching Black and Blue, which has controversial lines like, “I’m white inside, but that
don’t help my case. 'Cause I can't hide, what is on my face, oh! I'm so forlorn, life's just a thorn, my heart is torn, why
was I born? What did I do to be so black and blue?”
The closing, like the opening, has the performers frozen in their original positions. The bookend effect works quite nicely.
Musicians include: Rahn Coleman (piano/conductor), Brad Babinski (bass), James Yoshizawa (drums), Caesar Martinez
(sax) and Ashlin Parker (trumpet).
caryn desai produces, Rahn Coleman is the musical director, Stephen Semien is the choreographer, John Iacovelli is the
scenic designer and Ben Pilat is the light designer.
On the Donloe Scale – D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (OK) and E (excellent), Ain’t
Misbehavin’ gets an O (OK)
Ain’t Misbehavin’, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach. Opens Friday. Thu-Sat 8 pm; Sun 2 pm. Through November 4. Tickets: $37-44. ictlongbeach.org 562-436-4610.