“Ain’t Misbehavin'” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ January 27, 2014


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

If you are looking for an explosion of Fats Waller song hits coupled with a classy production that delivers them with panache, Phoenix Theatre’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is your show.  The breezy musical revue is performed by five talented performers who combine sleekly suave and sophisticated dance moves with brilliant singing to turn the show into an entertaining delight.

Born in 1904, Waller quickly demonstrated expert talent as both a musical performer and composer.  His well-known tunes encompass such standards as “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint is Jumpin’,” “Black and Blue,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” among the over 30 tunes used in this charming and cleverly conceived revue by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz.

What makes the Phoenix Theatre production stand out is director/choreographer Robert Kolby Harper’s briskly moving staging and excellent cast that deliver the songs with finesse, comic acumen where appropriate, and wonderful élan.  This elegant but exuberant staging is blessed with an excellent unit set depicting a big city bar, and a plethora of colorful costumes that further enhance the songs.  Only the hit and miss lighting detracts.

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” isn’t cluttered with lots of extraneous dialogue that tries to make it a teaching experience about Waller and his musical accomplishments.  Instead, it assumes we know the great Waller’s tunes and the composer’s background so the revue just showcases the songs fashionably.  Add the superlative cast to sing and dance these tunes and a hugely entertaining show results.  There’s nothing profound here, just well known tunes presented superlatively.

Harper’s quickly paced show flies by as the director finds nuanced comic bits in every tune and plays those moments artfully and his remarkable cast handles the casually elegant style with great aplomb.

There’s no one in the five person ensemble that stands out because each performer gets their share of stellar musical moments.  Walter Belcher sparkles in “You’re Feet Too Big” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”  Andre Jordon delights with Katherine Todd in “That Ain’t Right,” and stuns with Belcher in “Ladies Who Sing with the Band.”  Brittany Mack is a dancing enchantment in “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” and “Yacht Club Swing,” while Todd stops the show with “Squeeze Me” and Fredena J. Williams is highlighted in “Mean to Me.”  The best numbers come when the cast combines and delivers ensemble numbers with infectious joy.

You can’t go wrong with “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” Phoenix Theatre’s delightfully entertaining and dynamic tribute to Fats Waller’s great tunes.  “Ain’t Misbehavin’” continues through February 16.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A