Sunday, February 07, 2010

Ain't Misbehavin'

‘AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ jazzes up the Cleveland Play House

‘AIN’T MISBEHAVIN,’ the musical now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, is a tribute to the late great “Fats” Waller. Waller, who was known for his musical style of dynamics, tension and release, wrote hit after hit in the 1920s and 30s. In all, he penned over 400 songs.

‘AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' is a review of Waller’s’ songs as conceived by Murray Horowitz and Richard Maltby Jr. It opened on Broadway in 1978 and ran 1,604 performances, The show won three Tony’s, including the Best Featured Actress citation for Nell Carter.

Waller wrote during the heyday of Harlem clubs, often referred to as the Harlem Renaissance. Included in the score are such standards as ''I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling,'' ''Honeysuckle Rose'' and ''Two Sleepy People'.'

Waller wasn’t known for his Broadway tunes. In fact, the title song of this review was one of his few Great White Way contributions. It was first sung in the 1929 ‘HOT CHOCOLATES.’

As with many reviews, there is no plot, just song after song. This makes grabbing and holding an audience’s attention difficult. Each director must develop an entertainment format. In this case, director Kent Gash decided, rather than letting the songs’ natural humor and dramatic overtones create the attention, he would use an extra heavy dose of shticks and begging-for-laughs gimmicks.

From my perspective, the overdone shaking of boobs and booties, the repeated dance routines and over-stylized concepts became redundant. If Gash had allowed the Waller music to prove itself, like he did with the “Black and Blue” segment, ironically, the last song of the script, where the singers sat on stools and beautifully sang a great arrangement, the entire evening would have worked better.

Highlights of the show were the finale, Ken Robinson’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and his version of “Your Feet’s Too Big;” Christopher L. Morgan’s “The Reefer Song;” Rebecca Covington’s “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed;” and the company productions of “Handful of Keys,” “Lookin’ Good But Feeling Bad,” and “Off Time.”

The great sounding band sat stoically during the show, in stark contrast to the ever exploding stage images.

Emily Beck’s proscenium set was vibrant and added to the visual excitement of the show as did the very stylized costumes of Austin Sanderson.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: CPH’s ‘AINT MISBEHAVING’ is entertaining, especially in the second act, but is overdone, often bombarding the senses. Director Kent Gash and choreographer Byron Easley might have done better by heeding the adage, “sometimes, less is more!”