Theater Review: 'Ain't Misbehaving'

By: 
Ben Miles
THOMAS HOBSON, Amber Liekhus, Frenchie Davis, Natalie Wachen and Boise Holmes star in the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts & McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

Black musicians in the 1920s and 30s were at the forefront of what’s now known as the Harlem Renaissance. It was an era noted for its burgeoning creativity, ethnic pride and growing cultural awareness. “Ain’t Misbehaving” is a musical revue that pays tribute to the musical performers of that time and place.

In a new production of “Ain’t Misbehaving” at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, this three-time Tony Award-winning show (conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz, with the music of Thomas “Fats” Waller) gets a glorious staging. Effusively directed by Ken Page, with kinky choreography by Jeffery Polk and ebullient musical direction by Christopher Troy, “Ain’t Misbehaving” is not a musical in the traditional sense of musical theater. Rather, it is a revue of Fats Waller’s prolific contributions to the American songbook.

With 30 song and dance routines spread out over two acts, 15 per act (with a running time of about two hours), we are treated to such indelible tunes as “T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do,” “The Joint is Jumpin’” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” And with an extraordinary cast of five triple-threat talents – Frenchie Davis as Nell; Thomas Hobson as Andre; Boise Holmes as Ken; Amber Liekhus as Armelia; and Natalie Wachen as Charlaine – it is a joy to become reacquainted with the music made famous by Fats Waller.

Davis and Holmes lend heartfelt clarity to the lyrics of 1939’s “Honeysuckle Rose” and Wachen gives an oh so cute rendition of “Yacht Club Swing” from 1938. “The Vipers Drag” (also known as the “Reefer Song,” as in marijuana cigarette), from 1943, provides a scene stealing showcase for Hobson, and Liekhus does justice to 1925’s “Squeeze Me.”

“Ain’t Misbehaving” doesn’t provide much of a plot line, nonetheless the stagecraft is exquisite (Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford; Costuming by Shon LeBlanc; Lighting Design by Steven Young; Sound Design by Josh Bessom; Properties Design by Terry Hanrahan; and Hair/Wig/Makeup by Eb Bohks), the cast is delightful and the music is memorable.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs through Sunday, Oct. 8, at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. For reservations, call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. For online ticketing, visit www.lamiradatheatre.com.

 Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. on Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

There will be an open captioned performance on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 2 p.m. and an ASL interpreted performance on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. Talkbacks with the cast and creative team will be on Wednesday, Oct. 4.

ben@beachcomber.news

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