Friday, June 15, 2012

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ • Stages St. Louis

Stages' first show of its season splendidly hearkens back to the music of the 1920s and '30s.  It's not a traditional "musical".  It's a musical revue -- in tribute to the tunes of Thomas "Fats" Waller, a classically trained musician, best known for his infectious, brilliant compositions that helped lay out the blueprint for the sound of the Harlem Renaissance.

After an initial run at the Manhattan Theatre Club's cabaret in 1978, Ain't Misbehavin' transferred to Broadway featuring pianist, Luther Henderson, who adapted Waller's music for the revue, Nell Carter, Armelia McQueen, Charlaine Woodard, André DeShields, and our own Ken Page, a St. Louis native, and won three Tony Awards.  Cast member names remain assigned to the original Broadway "real-life" cast, and the nature of the show yields very little that is spoken.  But with this music, who cares?!

This strong-voiced ensemble delivers each number with inexhaustible energy and style.  The range of music will entertain you, make you laugh, make you think, and maybe bring a lump to your throat.
Raena White (Armelia), Dwelvan David (Ken),
Wendy Lynette Fox (Charlaine), Eric Lajuan Summers (Andre)
and Willena Vaughn (Nell).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Willena Vaughn not only looks like Nell Carter, but man can she blow!  She wins the audience over immediately with her comedic charm, and breaks your heart in act two's "Mean To Me".  Dwelvan David as the amorous Ken is irresistibly appealing in his duets, and hilarious in "Your Feet's Too Big".  Raena White makes for a gorgeous Armelia and packs clarion vocals, as well as great comedic timing.  Wendy Lynette Fox's Charlaine also sounds great (can you tell by now that all of these people have amazing voices?), and is hilarious in "Yacht Club Swing".

Eric Lajuan Summers (Andre)
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Eric Lajuan Summers as Andre is magnetic and sly and practically takes the show with "The Viper's Drag".  And when I say drag, I mean like a drag off of something.  Like a little reefer.  It's a great number.  As slick as the solo numbers are, when this cast all combine their voices in numbers like the memorable "Hand Full of Keys" or the chilling "Black and Blue", the rhythmically syncopated harmonies are like ear-candy, and these are what truly took the show for me.

James Wolk's scenic design reveals itself bit by bit, to great effect, and includes receding archways with illuminated piano keys.  Lou Bird's costume design provides vibrant duds in every scene.  They are both put in the best light, literally, courtesy of Matthew McCarthy's lighting design.

Raena White (Armelia).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak

There are just a couple of times when the show starts to drag, but just then, another great number comes your way.  I'd never seen this show before, though I'd heard of it for quite some time.  Seeing it, under Michael Hamilton's snappy direction and Peggy Taphorn's smooth choreography, I'm glad I saw this production.  Also, there's a smokin' hot *live* band.  Go see it.


Conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz
Created by Richard Maltby Jr.
Music by "Fats" Waller
Lyrics - various
Directed by Michael Hamilton
The Robert Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road
through July 1 | tickets: $41 - $57
Performances Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Sundays 2pm or 7:30pm

Willena Vaughn (Nell)
and Dwelvan David (Ken).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak

Dwelvan David* (Ken), Wendy Lynette Fox* (Charlaine), Adaron “Pops” Jackson (Luther), Eric Lajuan Summers* (Andre), Willena Vaughn* (Nell) and Raena White* (Armelia).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Choreographer by Peggy Taphorn; musical direction by Lisa Campbell Albert; lighting design by Matthew McCarthy; scenic design by James Wolk; costume design by Lou Bird.

The Band:
Alto clarinet, Jason Swagler; tenor clarinet, Kendrick Smith; trombone, Cody Henry; trumpet, Matt Bittles; bass, Jahmal Nichols; drums, Bernard Long, Jr.

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