Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a popular musical revue that gets its name from the song by the legendary jazz great Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller. Subtitled “The Fats Waller Musical Show,” the original Broadway production won the 1978 Tony Award® for Best Musical. In addition to the “title song, the score includes such catchy tunes as “Lookin’ Good But Feelin’ Bad,” “Ladies Who Sing in the Band,” “When the Nylons Bloom Again,” and the infectiously rocking “The Joint Is Jumpin’.”
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s community-theater production of this show, directed and choreographed by Liz Grimes Droessler, is fast and fun. Droessler has double-cast the show, thereby giving 10 local actors the chance to “strut their stuff,” and strut they do! We attended on Saturday night, the “opening night” for “The Green Cast.” (“The Blue Cast” had opened on Friday night.)
The “Green Cast” consists of Babs Watson, Tyanna West, Zora Umeadi, JaJuan Cofield, and Stan Williams. Whether singing solo or in duet, trio, quartet, or a full-cast quintet, all five turned in excellent work, giving a fine display of their vocal gifts.
One of the strengths of this production is the use of “side” shows. That is, while one or more members of the cast has center stage, performing a musical number, the other cast members remain engaged, either by reacting to the central action, by interacting with each other, or by interacting with the audience.
While all of the actors perform well, we felt that there were two stand-out. Tyanna West has the most stage-presence and charisma. Her 100-watt smile arrives onstage almost before she does, and we felt our eyes drawn to her a good share of the time. Stan Williams, on the other hand, is a master of audience-interaction. At appropriate times, Williams engages various members of the crowd and makes them feel as though he is having a private side-conversation with them.
Scenic designer Thomas Mauney has conjured up an authentic look for a Harlem Renaissance night club, and he has added a nice touch — the floor on the front of the stage is painted to resemble a giant piano keyboard. We were impressed by the period-looking tables and by the upstage windows (covered by scrim) through which we could see the band.
The program does not credit a costume designer, so we tip our hats to the choices of this anonymous contributor. All three ladies looked stunning in their first act lacy dresses and more so in their upscale attire during the second act. And both men looked dapper in their crisp suits.
Music director Marshall Butler, Jr. leads a team of four talented musicians (with a sound so full that we imagined there were more): Ronzel Bell on keyboards, Craig Johnson on piano, Vince Moss on drums, and David West on guitar. Fats Waller himself would have been proud!
Dance numbers are energetic and imaginative, and the actors perform them “in character.” It is especially fun to be entertained by music, dance, and comedy at the same time.
From The Department of Picky-Picky: Some of the dance routines could profit from a higher level of energy, and others that involved “unison” choreography need their timing tightened up a bit.
The “Green Cast” performs on March 16th, 18th, 23rd, and 25th.
Of course, we can only comment on the show that we experienced, but, if “The Blue Cast” is as entertaining as “The Green Cast,” any performance between now and March 25th should be a treat.
SECOND OPINION: March 13th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): https://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2018/03/13/theater-review-some-vocal-problems-aside-fats-waller-based-musical-aint-misbehavin-left-us-humming and March 7th and 10th mini-previews by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/aint-misbehavin/Event?oid=11775268 and https://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2018/03/10/two-different-casts-take-on-aint-misbehavin-at-nract; and March 10th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8869.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’: THE FATS WALLER MUSICAL SHOW at 8 p.m. March 16 and 17, 3 p.m. March 18, 8 p.m. March 22-24, and 3 p.m. March 25 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $20 Thursday-Saturday ($17 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel) and $17 Sunday ($14 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show (1978 Broadway and 1979 West End musical): https://www.mtishows.com/aint-misbehavin (Music Theatre International), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/aint-misbehavin-1425 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ain%27t_Misbehavin%27_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller (New York City-born composer, lyricist, singer, and jazz pianist, 1904-43): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fats-Waller (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/thomas-fats-waller-12543 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fats_Waller (Wikipedia).
Richard Maltby, Jr. (Ripon, WI-born playwright, lyricist, and screenwriter): http://www.masterworksbroadway.com/artist/richard-maltby-jr/ (Masterworks Broadway Site bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/richard-maltby-jr-11088 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0227999/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Maltby_Jr. (Wikipedia).
Liz Grimes Droessler (Raleigh, NC director and choreographer): https://www.facebook.com/liz.droessler (Facebook page).
A native of North Carolina, Yvette L. Holder has studied theater at three institutions: the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute (New York), and N.C. Central University, where she received a BA in Dramatic Arts. Yvette also promotes and produces comedy theater, as well as working with playwrights around the country during the development stage of their work. She hosts a monthly play reading session: “Sips and Scripts” at Imurj in downtown Raleigh. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read Yvette and Kurt’s reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.