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Theater Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’

Ain't MisbehavinWhen: Through March 9
Where: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Tickets: $43.50 at 773-327-5252 or porchlightmusictheatre.org

Tweetable Review: In the midst of a frozen Season in the City, Porchlight Ain’t Misbehavin’ is starting a fire

Much more contained and corralled from it’s originally viewed previews, Porchlight Theatre recently had it’s opening of the well-known musical revue Ain’t Misbehavin, which celebrates the music of Fats Waller and the “New Negro Movement” of the 1920’s that centered in & around Harlem. More often than not, this particular show which was created by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby Jr, appeared on Broadway in the late 1970’s in different varieties of formulation (i.e. Cabaret, stage show, review, etc.).  Much of the material doesn’t quite come off as a representation of the times, but more as a highlight of Fats Wallers’ compositions, many dealing in what seemed to be (at least from the outsiders perspective), an ungainly focus on the human form. Unfortunately, more-often-than-not, Ain’t Misbehavin is usually seen as aged, tame & toned-down in order to give some enjoyable musical performances of both uncovered & much loved Waller numbers, in a family friendly setting; fortunately, Porchlight Music Theatre however, ain’t your typical musical theatre company.

Misbehavin 2Director/choreographer Brenda Didier has not only compiled a cast/band that is exquisitely proficient in covering the material at hand with regards to technique, but each deftly handles the fine line of performance technique that can so often run off-the-rails with the time period and people highlighted in Ain’t Misbehavin’. While all five performers here are engaging to take in individually, and in the ensemble as a whole, it really is Lorenzo Rush Jr. who manages to typify a performance of prowess such as Waller’s personality was. While somehow closely resembling the actual Waller himself in stature & looks, Rush Jr. misses out on mimicking the jazz composer,  to create a robust role that is organic, unexpected and impressive to watch. Austin Cook, the show’s on-stage piano conductor, plays the tunes of this show like his life depends on them, and if even if he misses, he’s determined to go down in a blaze that exudes pizzaz. The great thing about Cook here is that one can see the musician feeling the music in his bones and reacting accordingly; its Erratic, engrossed but targeted, ferocious and wild – just what the doctor ordered.

Granted not everything lands here for Didier who could have made a bit stronger choices in the show’s opening moments to help set the mood in relation to the Act One closing curtain, and some of the transitions between musical numbers needed some of the seams further taken out. With that said though, the dance numbers are precisely motivated, lighting is hypnotically-smooth & the production is tight – it would have only been taken up a notch if the venue were, say, at The Apollo Theater to allow the World to breath a bit more in space.

I can only count on one hand when a show has gotten better once a Second Act started, Porchlight Music Theatre’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ can now be amongst that group. There’s a whole lot to love in this show – a whole lot.

Fresh Roasted Rating: Recommended

~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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