Stage and Cinema review of "Ain't Misbehavin'"

Theater Review: AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (Laguna Playhouse)


The musical revue Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a sizzling celebration of Fats Waller’s music — songs that he made famous in a career that ranged from uptown clubs to downtown Tin Pan Alley to Hollywood and concert stages around the world. This delightful revue evokes the humor and infectious energy of this American original to provide an evening of humor, romance and thrilling song and dance.

 Summer Nicole Greer, Dedrick Bonner, Amber Diane Wright, James Tolbert, Jenelle Lynn Randall
Musical Director Abdul Hamid Royal

Last night, the music of the Harlem Renaissance came to life at the Laguna Playhouse, directed with great style and flair by Yvette Freeman Hartley, and featuring emotionally expressive choreography by Roxane Carrasco. Conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, the 1978 Tony Award-winning musical celebration is filled with hit songs by Thomas “Fats” Waller, the big-hearted, bigger-than-life impresario and international jazz pianist who helped create and define American swing, including “This Joint is Jumpin’,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” the comical “Your Feet’s Too Big,” the soulful ballad “Black and Blue,” and the title song “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” among many others. Crankin’ out Luther Henderson‘s amazing arrangements and orchestrations to perfection is a fabulous five-piece band, with conductor and Music Director Abdul Hamid Royal (Five Guys Named Mo) on piano.

Summer Nicole Greer, Dedrick Bonner, Amber Diane Wright, James Tolbert, Jenelle Lynn Randall
 Summer Nicole Greer, Jenelle Lynn Randall, Amber Diane Wright, James Tolbert, Dedrick Bonner

There are also songs written by others but recorded by Fats Waller, including “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” among others from 1922-1943. The entire two-hour performance honoring his place in American music offers a joyful experience for all your senses, filled with humor, sexy banter, and great renditions by a fabulously talented cast.

Amber Diane Wright, Dedrick Bonner, Summer Nicole Greer, James Tolbert, Jenelle Lynn Randall
Jenelle Lynn Randall and Dedrick Bonner

This is rightfully one of the most popular musical revues of all time, and some say it was the granddaddy of all jukebox musicals. This sassy, sultry celebration features five dynamic performers in an evening of exuberant, melodic, and humorous songs that encapsulate the moods of this vibrant era.

James Tolbert and Amber Diane Wright
James Tolbert and Dedrick Bonner

The cast includes Dedrick Bonner, Summer Nicole Greer, Jenelle Lynn Randall, Amber Diane Wright, and James Tolbert (who serves as dance captain), each of whom exuberantly fills the stage with sass, wit and heartfelt sentiment while energetically singing Waller’s timeless songs of the human experience. Among their solos, duets, and ensemble numbers, the talented cast brings Broadway-quality performances to the stage. (Understudy performers include Samantha M. Lawrence, Jodi Marks and T.J.Wilkins.)

Dedrick Bonner, Summer Nicole Greer, Amber Diane Wright, Jenelle Lynn Randall, James Tolbert
 Amber Diane Wright, Summer Nicole Greer, James Tolbert, Jenelle Lynn Randall, Dedrick Bonner

A few numbers of note include Tolbert commanding the stage during “The Viper’s Drag,” highlighted with green lighting by designer Jared Sayeg to enhance his snake-like movements. During Tolbert and Bonner’s comical presentation of “Fat and Greasy,” the audience was invited to sing along, and certainly ready to do so when given the opportunity. (No doubt if given the chance, there would have been dancing along with the cast as well.)

James Tolbert
Jenelle Lynn Randall, Summer Nicole Greer, Dedrick Bonner, Amber Diane Wright, James Tolbert

Great harmonies and comedy abound throughout the revue. I especially enjoyed Randall and Greer’s sexy rendition of “Find Out What They Like” during which they left no doubt as to exactly what they have learned from the men in their lives and their ability to use that knowledge to their advantage.

Flashy and sparkling cocktail party costumes by Wendell C. Carmichael add to the revue’s classy atmosphere, especially during “Lounging at the Waldorf,” enhanced by the cabaret-styled set by Edward E. Haynes, Jr. Ian Scott‘s sound perfectly balances the onstage band with the singers, ensuring that every lyric is intelligible, especially important to appreciate the risqué double entendres.

Dedrick Bonner, Summer Nicole Greer, Jenelle Lynn Randall, Amber Diane Wright

Hartley has a long history with the revue dating back to 1978 when she joined the first national tour, which — after a year on the road —  moved onto the Broadway stage, taking over from the original cast who went on to perform the show in Los Angeles. Loving the revue, which she refers to as a “time capsule of stories that need to be heard,” Yvette especially enjoyed “guiding actors to bring the characters to life, making creative decisions behind the scenes, and witnessing the collaborative effort unfold into a captivating performance” of a show which holds “a special place” in her heart.

photos by Jason Niedle

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Laguna Playhouse
606 Laguna Canyon Drive in Laguna Beach, CA
Wed-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 7:30; Sun at 1 & 5:30 (dark Feb 11 at 5:30);
Thurs at 2 (Feb 1); Tues at 7:30 (Feb 6)
ends on February 11, 2024
for tickets ($55 – $94), call 949.497.2787 x1 or visit Laguna Playhouse

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