5/26/2019 AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ Stage Door Players
****½ ( A )
A PHAT WALLOW
(Sloth Alert: Much of this is a semi-plagiarized cut-and-paste job from my review of Atlanta Lyric's 2012 production, 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 Robert Egizio with Dunwoody's Stage Door Players 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. At least a thinner, more Caucasian version of him! 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. A fortunate audience gets to sit in Stage Door's Intimate space and be welcomed as long lost kinfolk. All that's missing is a smoky haze and a cocktail in hand.
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 many who venture Dunwoody-ward for this show.
As Atlanta Lyric showed us seven years ago, this show is a brilliant showcase for an ensemble of five artists, each superb individually, but rapturously exquisite as a group. Fenner Eaddy, Alyssa Michele, Spencer G. Stephens, Vallea E. Woodbury, and Melissa "Lola" Youngblood 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, combined, they are the singular definition of “greater than the sum of its parts” casting.
Add to the mix a marvelous band led by conductor (and pianist) Nick Silvestri. Mr. Silvestri 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 Robert Egizio and Choreographer Jordan Kenyon Smith have done a marvelous job of staging the ensemble, and all the creative elements click like a roomful of snapping fingers.
Chuck Welcome has put together an intimately elegant night club, and J.D. Williams has lit it beautifully -- smoky and hazy one moment, blue and sorrowful the next, with the inevitable 21st-century L.E.D. technology unobtrusive. Jim Alford has costumed the cast in elegant and expensive-looking night club fare, including a floor-length fur worn, at one point, by Mr. Stephens. If Rial Ellsworth's sound design occasionally lets the band overpower the singers, well, this space is a bear to balance, and my "misheard" moments may be more a product of my placement. Or, more likely, my old-fart hearing.
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 CD countless times since then, and that brings its own tyranny of expectations -- I would have preferred a less even-tempoed "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.
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 #sdpAintMisbehavin)