If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Ain’t Misbehavin’” in Revival at Long Wharf
I promised myself not to state the obvious, but the joint is clearly jumpin’ at the Long Wharf Theatre where a spirited revival of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is currently in residence until Sunday. This Tony Award winning musical revue featuring a parade of classic Fats Waller songs is very much needed these days.
Originally conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz and now directed by Mr. Maltby at Long Wharf, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is certainly in the right hands. In addition, several of the original designers are also back at the helm. Can a Broadway revival be far behind? That’s to be decided and, to be honest, not all the voices at Long Wharf will make you forget the sterling original Broadway company that made Nell Carter a star. Still, there’s plenty to recommend in New Haven.
This new production, with musical arrangements by Jeffrey Gutcheon and William Elliott, starts out just fine with an unbridled cast of singer/dancers letting loose under the snappy, original choreography by Arthur Faria. They give their all to a rousing medley of Fats Waller classics including “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Lookin’ Good But Feelin’ Bad” and the raucous title tune. Structurally, however, the revue seems stronger in its second act. There’s a definite lull in the action with “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band” sequence in Act One and the energy seems to drift. But things pick up considerably just in time with the rousing first act finale, “The Joint is Jumpin’”.
On a whole, the men (Eugene Barry-Hill and Doug Eskew) make stronger impressions here than the women. Mr. Eskew exudes effortless comic brio with the novelty numbers, “Fat and Greasy” and “Your Feet’s Too Big” while Mr. Barry-Hill is all slinky velvet performing an outstanding rendition of “The Viper’s Drag”. The entire ensemble also shines with the hauntingly beautiful and harmonious “Black and Blue”. Cynthia Thomas, Debra Walton and Kecia Lewis-Evans complete the talented quintet.
Gail Baldoni’s excellent costuming is the epitome of Harlem chic while Pat Collins’ lighting shimmers like highly polished piano keys. John Lee Beatty’s original set makes room for a pistol-hot pit band under the able direction of Phillip Hall. While uneven in spots, there’s still enough sass and fire in this “Ain’t Misbehavin’” to more than satisfy. And, needless to say, the music remains timeless.
“Ain’t Misbehavin’” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through Sunday, November 20th. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org