Volume 94, Issue 90
Tuesday, March 13, 2001
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Nothin' like a little Misbehavin'
Gazette File Photo
Starring: Troy Adams, Denise Pelley, Tanya Rich, Satori Shakoor, Denis Simpson
Directed By: Bob Ainslie
By Aaron St. John
Sometimes misbehavin' can be so fun.
Celebrating the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller, the legendary jazz songwriter and performer who ruled pre-World War II Harlem, Ain't Misbehavin' is a delightful show. On stage now until Mar. 25 at the Grand Theatre, the production is nothing less than a fantastic, high-energy romp through the music of the 1920s and '30s.
Thankfully, there is no attempt to weave the songs together to form a cohesive storyline. Instead, the incredibly talented performers simply present the songs one after another, often with an accompanying set-piece, and each with its own fantastic choreography. While the lack of a flowing plot may disappoint those who expect a linear story, this lack actually allows the show to keep up the pace throughout, freeing the performers to quickly alter each segment.
Ain't Misbehavin' features both original Waller compositions and ones he made famous. Though it is not made clear which are which throughout the show, it becomes clear upon consulting the program that his repertoire consisted of a great deal of the classics from the era in which he worked.
Though it is hard to pick out the best numbers, "Honeysuckle Rose," "Black And Blue," and especially the bawdy "Find Out What They Like," are among the highlights.
Each of the performers are exceptional, but one in particular, Denis Simpson (yes, from Polka Dot Door), outshines the others. That's not to suggest the others performers aren't wonderful, but Simpson has a commanding presence that draws attention. Singing and dancing his way through the show with an effortless grace, he is kinetic.
Simpson is also lucky enough to perform the show's highlight, "The Viper's Drag," as a solo piece. It is an incredibly funny paean to marijuana that Simpson performs while pretending to smoke a joint.
Some might be alarmed that such content could originate from the period that it does, but after viewing Ain't Misbehavin' it becomes clear that "The Viper's Drag" is not unique; the lyrics to most of the show's numbers are filled with frank sexual references and clever double-entendres.
Surprisingly, hometown favourite Denise Pelley failed to match Simpson's brilliance on stage. Although she turned in a sublime performance, she was by no means the evening's highlight.
The simply-set stage is designed to resemble a night club, with just a couple of tables, a few chairs and toward the back of the stage, a trio of supremely talented musicians who provide the musical accompaniment for the entire show.
The sparse setting is effective and provides the performers the necessary room to execute their marvellous dance steps. Director and choreographer Bob Ainslie has outdone himself with this show; every aspect of Ain't Misbehavin' is perfect.
Whether you're looking to expose yourself to some music you may not be familiar with or just to have a great time, Ain't Misbehavin' is an excellent show that should not missed.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000