A Review

"Ain't Misbehavin'"

This Joint Is Jumpin’

By R. J. Donovan

"Ain't Misbehavin'" is one of those shows that just keeps coming back. Since opening on Broadway in 1978, it's been a popular title on tour and in summer stock.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary and featuring the music of Fats Waller, the show is packed with familiar classics. Whether the evening soars or not lies squarely with the delivery of the musical numbers.

The original Broadway company boasted the talents of Nell Carter, Ken Page, Andre De Shields and Armelia McQueen. Larger than life, to be sure. At the Huntington Theatre, the talents are just fine even if the faces may not be familiar to you.

Director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge has set the action within the framework of a Harlem rent party -- a club gathering hosted by neighbors who needed to raise money for the rent. A highlight of these parties would often be a pianist like Fats Waller who would be hired to entertain and keep the energy level going.

Dodge has said she sees the show as the story of five pals who laugh together, sing together and compete with each other. She has also said her goal is to make the audience feel as though it’s peeking through a window watching the party unfold.

So to set the scene, we start off at the corner of Lenox and 135th Street. The cast of five, dressed in jewel toned treats from costume designer Michael Krass, makes its entrance through the audience before arriving onstage to present the title number. They then enter the club and the night takes off.

While the first half of the show has its high spots, the sound system was not cooperating on opening night. At the low end, it was sometimes turned off completely. At the high end, it was so intense that the singers were shrill. Both issues have, no doubt, been rectified.

Despite that, Act One brings "I’ve Got A Feeling I'm Fallin," "T' Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do," "Cash For Your Trash" and "The Joint Is Jumping," among others.

Soara-Joye Ross also delivers a knockout "Squeeze Me" solo. Controlled but brimming with goose bumps, she does a great job with it. As well, James Alexander and Terita Redd present the lovely duet in "Honeysuckle Rose"and Terita (left) leads the delicious "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling."

I found Act Two the more satisfying of the two. Within the context of the show, the party continues on, numerous libations have been enjoyed and emotions are running deeper.

In a strong series of solos, Todd E. Pettiford does a slick job with the smoky but carefully understated "The Viper's Drag," Terita breaks your heart with a afffecting "Mean To Me" and James has great fun with "Yo Feet's Too Big." Dana Dawson has her best moment in the show with the spirited “Keeping’ Out of Mischief Now.”

As the rent party comes to a close, the cast departs the club to do one final number in the street before heading off into the night. "Black and Blue" makes a gripping statement and the company presents it straightforward, with unflinching emotion.

As an epilogue, everyone quick-changes into glistening white outfits to come back and present a zingy closing medley that showcases Fats Waller's recording career from “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter” to “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

Special mention has to be made of the musicians who sit on stage and become an integral part of the action. They include Stanley Swann on drums, Ron Mahdi on bass, Shawn Hines on trumpet, Hommy Ramos on trombone and Chuck Langford on tenor sax and clarinet. Leading the way at the piano, and prominently featured in “That Ain’t Right,” is Ronald Metcalf.

Marking the opening of another season, The Huntington shows just how much fun misbehavin' can be.

“Ain't Misbehavin'” is at The Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue in Boston through October 19. For information, call 617-266-0800 or log onto www.huntingtontheatre.org.

Production photos by T. Charles Erickson

-- OnStage Boston


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