This is Black History Month and Porchlight Music Theatre’s thoroughly entertaining production of “Ain’t Misbehavin” is a timely reminder of the golden Harlem Renaissance milestone in African-American culture and US culture as a whole.
For those of us who have seen “After Midnight” on Broadway, (read Splash review of "After Midnight" here) the comparison to “Ain’t Misbehavin” commands attention.
Both are entertaining to the max and overflowing with talent. The difference is that the big budget Broadway production throws a lot of money to pop star talent, costumes and staging more in keeping with Busby Berkeley extravaganzas than the intimate Harlem clubs that “Ain’t Misbehavin” so aptly captures.
Broadway is Broadway but Chicago’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin” sure has equal heavy hitter triple threat talent. As Porchlight’s slogan says, this is “American musicals, Chicago style”, and a great style it is! The five songsters – Robin Da Silva, Sharriese Hamilton, Donterrio Johnson, Lorenzo Rush Jr., and Lina Wass—were overflowing with saucy or blues as the song - -or song and dance--required. All shone in solo spotlights in their turn, where they were stellar without fail, and also each worked flawlessly as part of the spirited ensemble.
The play—perhaps more accurately described as a jazz-age operetta—recreates the world of Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller. There are 30 songs including “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I do”, “Black and Blue”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and more that you hear and immediately know you’ve heard before, even if you couldn’t list them as Fats Waller or even Harlem Renaissance era lineage.
The hip rolls and flirting gestures are so deliciously sultry at times that one might think to put an “adult content” rating on the performance.
If you are expecting a play in the traditional sense of storyline and narrative with character development this is not your show. Rather, picture yourself walking back in time and strutting into Harlem’s fashionable Cotton Club. You’ll have a thoroughly good time at the club and enjoy the cheer of Fats Waller’s party. You’ll come on in and be disappointed that it ends so soon. It’s more than two hours but the time does fly by.
A review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the fast fingering of piano player and conductor—Austin Cook whom some might remember from his relatively recent performance in “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” and his fellow musicians on bass (Chris Thigpen), Drums (Michael Weatherspoon), Trumpet (Shaun Johnson) and Saxophone (Rajiv Halim).
Playing at Stage 773, 1225 West Belmont, Chicago, through March 9.
For information or tickets visit the Porchlight Music Theatre website or calling Stage 773 at 773 327 5252.
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PHOTOS BY KELSEY JORISSEN