There was nothing like an evening at Harlem’s Cotton Club or the Savoy Ballroom to pick up your spirits. That’s what you get if you get yourself down to the Ahmanson to see Richard Maltby’s celebration of the music of “Fats” Waller called Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Ain’t Misbehavin' is a jumpin’ jivin’ review featuring five dynamite performers, Eugene Barry-Hill, Doug Eskew, Armelia McQueen, Roz Ryan, and Debra Walton. This Tony Award winning show is a great tonic for a Depression, in the 20’s and in 2009.
“Fats” Waller wrote some mighty fine melodies, and he and his collaborating lyricists composed some sassy, telling lyrics. Doug Eskew made us laugh with “Your Feet's Too Big”. Roz Ryan warbled, “Mean To Me,” Armelia McQueen insinuated sex into “Squeeze Me,” Roz Ryan told us “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie,” and Debra Walton wowed us with “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now.” Eugene Barry Hill brought the house down with “The Viper’s Drag: The Reefer Song.”
Ms. McQueen and Ms. Ryan (succeeding the remarkable Nell Carter) were in the original show on Broadway in 1978. Mr. Eskew and Mr. Barry-Hill have performed the show before as well. Only Debra Walton was new to it, but she more than held her own. The best thing about this ensemble was the smoothness with which they interacted.
Richard Maltby again took the director’s reins. He gives each song a character and a story. Arthur Faria recreated his choreography and musical staging for this production and kept it moving and jumping. The musical adaptations, arrangements, and orchestrations were by Luther Henderson, with William Foster McDaniel providing a superb job of musical direction. The scenic design was by John Lee Beatty, with costumes by Randy Barcelo (based on the original designs.
Ain’t Misbehavin' might not be a great musical but it certainly provides an antidote for our troubles. It will play at the Ahmanson Theatre until May 31.