Entertainment » Theatre

Ain't Misbehavin'

by Will Demers
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 5, 2018
The cast of "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Theatre By The Sea thru June 17, 2018. Photos by Steven Richard Photography.
The cast of "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Theatre By The Sea thru June 17, 2018. Photos by Steven Richard Photography.  

A 1978 musical revue splashed onto the scene with the likes of some legendary performers. Nell Carter ("Gimme A Break!") and Irene Cara ("Fame") were among those launching the musical. Based on the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller, an African-American pianist and composer who, at a very young age was considered to be the best at playing in the stride style. The early 1920s and 1930s black musicians were part of the Harlem Renaissance, and their musical history was played out in this production.

"Ain't Misbehavin'" is named after one of Waller's most popular songs, and can be seen locally for the first time in years at Theatre By The Sea. Not so much a story per se, but a variety show of songs from the era which still finds some relevance today. Choreographed and directed by Gerry McIntyre with musical direction by Christopher Davis, this production is a real treat; not only is the music extremely well done, the talented cast lends some vocal gravitas to this season's opener.

Five vocalists from around the country flesh out the musical numbers and do it with the style that must have been part of the original cast. DeMone and Jeffrey Eugene Johnson (who returns to TBTS from last season,) are the two swanky gentlemen and our fabulous ladies are NaTonia Monet, Helen Marla White, and Tarra Conner Jones. DeMone has a stage presence all his own; he commands the audience to sing along at times, and embarrasses (only slightly) one viewer during "Your Feet's Too Big." Johnson, clearly the most athletic of the cast, not only sings but dances his way through myriad numbers.

The ladies are fantastic vocally. White has the voice to belt out "Squeeze Me" and "Find Out What They Like" as well as croon during some of the quieter moments, of which there are few. Monet's comic timing is evident here, she can sing but he movements and facial expressions are pure gold. Those old enough to remember Nell Carter will recognize some of her vocal inflections in Jones, who is possibly the strongest performer of all here; her skillful singing and dancing round out a cast which must be heard and seen.

Not usual for productions at this theater, the band is actually on stage at all times; along with Davis on the piano, ever present and incredibly skilled on the keys. The Jazz stylings are well represented here, it transports one to another era, and the costumes by Lou Bird don't hurt that effect, either. There's some fun to be had regarding smoking "The Viper's Drag" and a melancholy reflection on skin color "Black And Blue" as well as some splashy sing-alongs "Fat And Greasy" and "Lounging At The Waldorf." The revue never stalls, however, the second act is definitely more splashy and fun. See it for the costumes; listen for the time capsule of songs of days gone by.

"Ain't Misbehavin'" is running through June 17th at Theatre By The Sea, 364 Card's Pond Road, Wakefield, RI 02880. For information or tickets call 401-782-3800 or visit www.theatrebythesea.com.

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