05 June 2011

Theater Review: Ain't Misbehavin'

The Washington Savoyards latest production at the Atlas Performing Arts Center certainly will not be mistaken as a Victorian Gilbert and Sullivan light opera.  Yet their performance of  Ain’t Misbehavin’ was an superb swing singspiel celebrating the music of Thomas “Fats” Walker and the Harlem Renaissance.

There is nary a bad seat in the Lange Theater at the Atlas PAC.  In fact, the stage seemed so inviting that we joked that we should sit on-stage.  But the when actual invitation to sit on-stage with the cast and the band was issued, it seemed less tempting once the comfy chairs were taken.  The stylistic but static staging that evoked the Lenox Avenue nightclubs in uptown Manhattan was complimented by subtle background lighting that set a mood without upstaging the actors.

One should not expect deep plot lines from a musical revue, but Director/Choreographer Michael Bombitt did a good job in coaxing personality from the cast while putting on the show. While there were few costume changes, the impression was dapper and salacious, seemingly with the constant threat of a wardrobe malfunction ala Janet Jackson’s Superbowl show.

 Daryl Spiers energetic performance as the sauve “Andre” certain came through sweat equity.  Iyona Blake carried her role as a Harlem hussy.  Clif Walker made an impression with his comedic solo “Your Feet’s Too Big”.  Lauren Du Pree cut a rug with her jitterbug.  And Nova Payton was a standout with her vocal range.  The band led by pianist Darius Smith added to the toe tapping fun.

A light opera lends itself to Teppichfresser theatricality, but the carpet chewing scenes conveyed character and gave some semblance of story to Ain’t Misbehavin’.  A “Fats” Walker music revue  inevitably would be raunchy, rowdy and rib splitting funny to reflect Walker’s worldview that life is a journey of pleasure and play. But the libretto also included a couple of reflective pieces about the dichotomy of playing downtown and uptown and being “Black and Blue”, which showed off the cast’s harmonic skills.

This was a fun show which runs daily through June 19th and is well worth reliving Harlem’s heyday. Tickets are between $15 and $40.

When and if the construction of Phase One off the H Street Streetcar project is complete (it's supposed to be done by October, 2011), it should bring increased accessibility to the Atlas PAC and to  a district that was already in renaissance.

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