11/6/2021     AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’                                  Georgia Ensemble Theatre

 

A PHAT WALLOW

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(Sloth Alert:  Much of this is a semi-plagiarized cut-and-paste job from my reviews of two prior productions, because, well, why not? The show is what the show is, and my enjoyment of it remains the same.)

This Joint is Jumpin’!

 

Welcome to the world of Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller, a prolific jazz pianist and songwriter whose inimitable style will be recognizable to almost everyone. Ain’t Misbehavin’ is the 1978 revue that showcases some of his most recognizable tunes, and Georgia Ensemble Theatre has put together a terrific production that sends us on a high-octane rocket trip into the past.

 

We’re in a Harlem nightclub, anytime in the twenties or thirties, and “Fats” himself is at the keyboard. A quintet of singers sashays and belts and coos and seduces us with ballads and harmonies and dances and most exquisite wallows in nostalgia and high energy.  All that's missing is a smoky haze and a cocktail in hand. And the usual lobby barkeeper may even provide that, even if G.E.T.’s COVID policy forces you to remain in the lobby to guzzle it down.
 

Just as a sampler, we get the all-too familiar title song, “Honeysuckle Rose” drained of its Willie-Nelson twang, “Black and Blue” in exquisite five-part harmony, a fast and sleazy “Fat and Greasy,” an angry (but playful) “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” an

hilarious “Cash for your Trash,” and a bounce-off-the-walls and jump-for-joy “This Joint is Jumpin’,”  And this is only a small bitsy part of the total treats on tap for the lucky few who venture Roswell-ward for this show.

 

As Atlanta Lyric showed us in 2012 and (the late lamented) Stage Door Players in 2019, this show is a brilliant showcase for an ensemble of five artists, each superb individually, rapturously exquisite as a group. Fenner Eaddy (a holdover from the Stage Door production), Jaymyria Etienne, Lawrence Flowers, Melodie Fort, and Latrice Pace  all have their moments in the spotlight, but they’re even better when they’re on stage together, in various pairings or group numbers. Their voices blend beautifully, and when combined, they are the singular definition of “greater than the sum of its parts” ensemble magic.

Add to the mix a marvelous band led by Assistant Music Director (and pianist) Louis Heriveaux. Mr. Heriveaux not only plays the piano like a master, he adds his own moments of wit and character to this theatrical “waller” in jazz and ragtime and stride.  Director (and M.D.) S. Renee Clark and Choreographers Thomas W. Jones III and Lauren Crooke Tatum have done a marvelous job of staging the ensemble, and all the creative elements click like a roomful of snapping fingers.

 

Raquel M. Jackson has put together an elegant and clever set, making full use of G.E.T.’s vertical space and pit area, with piano keys a appropriately dominant motif.  If Toni Sterling’s lighting occasionally falls into foreground shadow and background “hot spots,” it is nevertheless unobtrusive and does the cast and the music full justice.  Jarrod Barnes has costumed the cast in elegant and expensive (looking) night club fare

 

Back in 2012, I wasn’t as familiar with this show as I should have been but was more familiar with Waller’s music than I thought. I’ve heard many of these songs by other artists (the aforementioned Willie Nelson, Mandy Patinkin, Spider Saloff, even the late great Steve Goodman) without realizing their provenance. Once more, I delighted in hearing (and seeing) them performed in a unified style that can only be described as a “phat wallow,” if you’ll forgive the out-of-style slang  (Hey! A good pun is NEVER passé!). I've listened to the score countless times since then, and that brings its own tyranny of expectations -- I would have preferred a less even-tempo-ed "This Joint is Jumpin'" that increases in freneticism with each verse, but I daresay, it had energy-a-plenty, and only a rabid fan like me would have noticed the difference.  

 

All this being said, Georgia Ensemble has chosen a perfect show with which to welcome us back after our long quarantine, and even though last night’s audience was criminally sparse (if enthusiastic beyond its numbers), it was well worth the long commute from ... wherever the heck it is I have chosen to hide from the pandemic.

 

So, nothing more needs to be said. I loved this show. It pretends to be nothing other than the revue it is (thank goodness no attempt was made to shoehorn a stupid plot onto the songs). I had a most excellent time, and “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed” that you will too! Trust me! After all, It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie!

 

     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #GETAintMisbehavin  @GeorgiaEnsemble)