By Gerard Falco.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ is running for a limited time at the Westchester Broadway Theatre through February 24th. The play serves as a showcase for the bawdy and catchy music of Fats Waller, the epic composer, entertainer, singer and pioneer of modern jazz piano. The play is purely musical and doesn’t require an elaborate set, costuming or even a sizable cast. It revolves around a pianist, small orchestra and five skilled performers who bring to life the swing and jazz music that was all the rage in Harlem night clubs during the 1920s’ and 1930s’.
The original production, conceived by Richard Malty, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, met with early success during its debut on Broadway in May of 1978, where it won the Tony Award for that year. This production is produced by William Foster McDaniel and directed by Walter Maltby, Jr. The music direction is by Mr. McDaniel. Set design is by Steve Loftus, costume design is by Keith Nielsen, sound design is by Mark Zuckerman, and lighting design is by Andrew Gmoser.
The play features five performers all equipped with excellent voices, including M. Martine Allard (Nell), Ron Lucas (Andre), Tony Perry (Ken), Amy Jo Phillips (Armelia) and Anita Welch (Charlaine). Tony Perry’s note holding ability in “Honeysuckle Rose” was impressive as was Amy Jo Phillips broad vocal range. Some light dancing was part of the performance as well. The set and lighting was very simple and there was very little in the way of props. Costuming colorfully reflects the Harlem jazz scene of the period. The sound was good, but more crisp and clear in the second act.
The songs role back to back through the two acts with some colorful and humorous bantering between the players. Part of the first act is presented as if it were a radio show being performed at the night club. The second act is the livelier of the two, and it begins with the orchestra being projected forward onto the stage. The orchestra includes a jazz piano (played by Mr. McDaniel) woodwind, brass, bass and percussion. The ensemble was energetic, and deserving of some smiles of their own as they were clearly having fun pumping out that cool jazz! There is some good almost acapella mixing of voices in the second act, especially in the number “Black and Blue”. This show is a good choice for those who love and appreciate the swing jazz era.