By ROY BERKO
The setting in which a musical production takes place, often affects the pleasure one gets from the experience. A perfect case in point is Ain’t Misbehavin’ presently being staged by Great Lakes Theater (GLT) in its intimate Hanna Theatre home.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical tribute which celebrates Fats Waller and his music. It is a series of song and dance numbers, sans any story line. The segments are woven together by choreography and music transitions. It requires an up-close and personal experience. The closer the better. This is not a production to stage at the likes of the Connor Palace or the State Theatres.
The show echoes the performances presented at the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom, the great New York black playgrounds of high society, and the Lenox Avenue dives filled with piano players banging out the new beat known as swing.
It was an era of rowdy, raunchy and humorous songs that reflected Waller, his music and view of life as a journey meant for pleasure and play.
The evening features GLT veterans Jessie Cope Miller and Colleen Longshaw, who are joined by the trio of Tyrick Wiltez Jones, David Robbins and Brittney Mack and William Knowles, who serves as both the musical director and depicts Waller.
The show was conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz and is locally directed and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre.
Creative staging, which often finds the performers singing to, playing with, and including the audience in the actions, plus dynamic choreography, makes for fun.
The actors croon, jive, wail, and dance their way through the songs that made Waller a household name in the heyday of American big band jazz music, singing such hits as “The Joint is Jumpin’,” “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do,” I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling,” “Your Feet’s Too Big,” and the show’s namesake “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
The goings on include a finale of six songs, including such classics as “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “Two Sleepy People” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” that keep the audience singing, clapping and stomping all the way out of the theatre.
Capsule judgment: If you love, even like jazz and want to swing back into the long-gone era or the Harlem Renaissance this is a show for you!
Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs at Great Lakes Theater’s Hanna Theatre home until May 21, 2023. For tickets, call 216-241-6000 or click here.