Based on an idea by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Orchestrations and Arrangements by Luther Henderson
Vocal and Musical Concepts by Jeffrey
Director: Todd Hart
Music Director: Michael Plantz
Stage Manager: Ashley Moseley
Set Designer: Jack Hardaway
Lighting Designer: Michael Winters
Sound Designer: Bill Eickenloff and Wayne Hoskins
Costume/Make-Up Designer: Ric Leal
Scenic Artist: Jennye James
Piano/Conductor: Michael Plantz
Reed 1: Jordan Standlee
Reed 2: Michael Dill
Trumpet: Haley Woodrow
Trombone: Jonathan Woodrow
Drums: Patrick Herring
Bass: Sean McWilliams
Reviewed Performance 4/10/2011
Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
If the songs from Ain't Misbehavin' were put into a Mash Up, the revised title might look a little something like this: "I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter, and I've got my fingers crossed, because it's a sin to tell a lie. See, I've got a feeling I'm falling for your viper's drag?even though you're fat and greasy and mean to me. But it ain't nobody's bizzness if I do, because I can't give you anything but love, even though your feet's too big.
I'm keeping out of mischief now, I ain't misbehavin', so come squeeze me, my honeysuckle rose." There are some interesting titles in there, huh? While the songs ranged from clever to sexy to melancholy, the show managed to flow effortlessly, it painted the audience with strokes of every emotion, and it left us anything but, well, mashed.
Ain't Misbehavin' is a musical revue populated with the songs of Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller, songs written and performed during the Harlem Renaissance of the late 1920's and early 1930's. The show won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1978, along with several other critical awards for acting, choreography, and direction.
For Theatre Arlington's production, Director Todd Hart assembled a spirited, talented cast of five, as well as a wonderful seven-piece orchestra. Set Designer Jack Hardaway used the depth of this stage to create the feeling of a jazz club, complete with bistro tables and the orchestra in their places on the stage, instead of behind the curtain or in a pit. The orchestra was, in fact, the centerpiece of the set, along with an enormous, rounded cut out of a piano keyboard above and behind the musicians. The set was visually balanced and ideal for this type of show.
Lighting Designer Michael Winters created a lighting scheme that complimented the set, as well as the costumes worn by the actors. Using lots of blues and greens and purples, the effect was hazy and smoky. Sound Designers Bill Eickenloff and Wayne Hoskins mixed and balanced the microphones perfectly, so that the audience never heard static or reverb (unless it was intended), nor did the orchestra ever overpower the singers.
Costume and Make-Up Designer Ric Leal couldn't have made better choices for these actors. The three ladies wore dresses in jewel tones of purple, green, and blue, while the men were dressed in dapper three-piece suits, along with Derby hats and two-tone shoes.
While the costumes didn't change throughout the show, different accessory pieces were added for particular songs; mink stoles, satin purses, and ornate matching headpieces amplified the ladies' already glamorous looks. The two men didn't get to have quite as much fun with their costumes and props?well, wait a minute?there was the song that used a big, fat (fake) doobie as a prop. I'll get to that in a minute.
As detailed in their playbill bios, each of the five actors in Ain't Misbehavin' has an impressive resume, and, as a group, their backgrounds are rock solid. Alicia Burton looked gorgeous in her emerald green dress, and she shined most during her comedic turns in songs like "Yacht Club Swing." Her voice, however, seemed to give out while reaching in her higher register, and while holding out her longer notes.
Vicki Johnson's clear voice was the most identifiable when the five voices blended in harmony, and she displayed an enviable range. Linda Lee was the standout amongst the ladies, however. Her movements were lovely and natural, and she knocked me out of my socks with her rendition of "Mean to Me."
Our two men were equally brilliant. Calvin Roberts had me at "honey" during "Honeysuckle Rose," one of his early songs in the show. Oh, to be that subtle and endearing on stage! Mr. Roberts managed to sing nearly every note with a shy grin, and even when the song called for a deeper emotion, the placid look on his face seemed to fit. While performing a boozy rendition of "Your Feet's Too Big," Mr. Roberts showed us funny ? and we laughed. The audience responded to Mr. Roberts whenever he was front and center.
Akron Watson had several dazzling moments during this show, but none more so than his performance during "The Viper's Drag." Accompanied by the aforementioned colossal joint, Mr. Watson's slow and deliberate movements during this number were mesmerizing. I imagine it was incredibly difficult to move with such calculated effort, almost like maneuvering through molasses, and also manage to stay in perfect sync with the music.
While each performer's individual contributions to Ain't Misbehavin' were significant, the capstone of the show was The Five's performance of "Black and Blue" near the end of Act 2. The group sat on stools while singing this difficult (and sometimes polyphonic) number in nearly flawless five-part harmony. Nobody in the audience coughed or even fidgeted during this song ? it was that good. Go for the costumes. Go for the performances, and go for the songs. But look forward to "Black and Blue."
Theatre Arlington, 305 West Main Street, Arlington, TX 76010
817-275-7661 / www.theatrearlington.org
Through May 1st
Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm
Tickets are $22 with discounts available for seniors, students,
and groups of 10 or more.