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Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 10, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Solomon Parker III, Iyona Blake, Nova Y. Payton, Korinn Walfall and Kevin McAllister. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Ain’t Misbehavin’, the show that opened on Broadway in 1978 starring Nell Carter is a revue of the compositions of the period, most notably Fats Waller’s.  Performed by five super-talented singers, all well-known to Signature fans, who deliver thirty-nine numbers, some in short form.  The music reveals the scope of Waller’s extensive repertoire and his mastery of the Harlem slide piano.  Many of the songs may be unfamiliar, but some are surprisingly well-known – “Honeysuckle Rose”, “The Joint is Jumpin’”, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby”, “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”, and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”, recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Nat King Cole and Paul McCartney.

The show is a musical anthology rather than a story-driven theatrical production.  Its format is a singers’ showcase performed by a quintuple of song stylists who interpret the melodies in a range of styles through dance, mood and motion.  There are duets to revel in and sexy, sultry ballads that sizzle.  There is jitterbug and jazz, blues and boogie-woogie, and even a glee club-styled dirge in the number “Black and Blue” which was Waller’s response to the racism he experienced.  A particularly hot and rarely heard number, “The Viper’s Drag”, sung by Solomon Parker III, wows with a slinky dance and hep cat jam referencing his pipe dream of “a reefer five-feet long”.  Iyona Blake, Kevin McAllister, Korinn Walfall and Nova Y. Payton round out the cast of top-notch singers.

Solomon Parker III and Korinn Walfall. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Marquee lights, Art Deco pendant lamps hung from the ceiling and small shaded lamps affording a honeyed glow rest on cocktail tables positioned in front of the stage to transform the MAX Theatre into a Harlem nightclub – one with a seven-piece onstage band led by Mark G. Meadows as Fats Waller.  Glamourous costumes of the period – ladies dripping with fur and rhinestones and gents sporting crisply tailored chesterfields and spiffy black tie as conceived by Costume Designer Sarita P. Fellows.

Mark G. Meadows. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Thomas “Fats” Waller was a brilliant musician and fascinating character.  An accomplished classical pianist who found too many doors shut to him until he arrived in Harlem to become one of the greatest and most prolific composers of early jazz and syncopated rhythms as well as a stylish performer in his own right.  I tell you this up front, since, unlike other productions like Beautiful: The Carole King Story or the Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical On Your Feet! designed around the lives and works of the composers or the stars, this is a revue without a back story.

Iyona Blake and Solomon Parker III. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Perfect for date night!

Written by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horowitz and Directed by Joe Calarco.  Additional cast members Da’von T. Moody and Kanysha Williams.  Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway; Lighting Design by Sherrice Mojgani; Sound Design by Ryan Hickey; Choreography by Jared Grimes.  Musicians: Mark G. Meadows on piano; Michael Bowie on bass; Carroll “CV” Dashiel III on drums; Ed Walters and Grant Langford on reeds; Kieron Irvine on trumpet: and Christopher Steele on trombone.

Through March 10th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

 

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