Stage Raw review of Ain't Misbehavin'

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Reviewed by Julyza Commodore
Laguna Playhouse
Thru February 11th


Set in the 1930s, Ain’t Misbehavin’ pays tribute to Fats Waller by bringing the audience into the heart of the Harlem Renaissance. Known for being a master of stride piano playing, Waller is regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. He was also a songwriter and composer who found a great deal of commercial success both abroad and in the United States.

Although the production (a musical revue with a book by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby Jr., and music by various composers and lyricists as arranged and orchestrated by Luther Henderson) features a cast of five, never once does it seem to be lacking in any aspect. Each cast member performs under their own first names just as it was first done on Broadway Each performer also stands out in their own unique way. Summer Nicole Greer’s voice is buttery smooth on “Squeeze Me” while James Tolbert’s comedic and singing chops are prevalent as he sings “Viper Drag,” a funny ode to smoking marijuana. In “Black and Blue”, the entire ensemble shines vocally (including Jenelle Lynn Randall and Amber Diane Wright).

There is minimal dialogue, with the music being the main focus, featuring songs composed between 1922 and 1945. With musical direction by Abdul Hamid Royal, the show is filled with both show-stopping upbeat numbers and smooth and sultry slow ones. Directed by Yvette Freeman Hartley (who also starred in the first national tour of Ain’t Misbehavin’), the show is cohesive and well put together. Nothing seems rushed or extraneous.

The production is vibrant and entertaining, and even if you don’t know much about Fats Waller, you will leave feeling not only familiar with his artistry, but also filled with joy.

Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, check website for schedule, thru Feb. 11th, 120 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.