One of the great joys of musical theater is that some productions can transport an audience out of the present, and collectively bring them to another time and place. Worries and woes don't go away, but for a brief shining moment, they are put out of an audience's mind.
Ain't Misbehavin' at Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck, RI has music by Fats Waller and terrific performances by the cast, which includes Patrice Covington, Rheaume Crenshaw, Starr Domingue, David Jennings and Tony Perry. Directed and choreographed by Ken Leigh Rogers, this production of does a beautiful job providing that welcome, temporary, escape from reality.
Originally conceived and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., Ain't Misbehavin' is a musical revue. There is no plot, no defined setting; though one can easily imagine being in the Cotton Club in Harlem. The music covers both music that Waller wrote, but also some of the music he recorded.
The show opens with the title number and the first act moves steadily through some of the more recognizable numbers including 'T ain't nobody's Biz-ness If I Do' and 'Honeysuckle Rose'. The cast sails through some period-appropriate choreography, with ease. During the first act, The cast seems constrained by the material. The women, especially, were reining in their powerful voices.
The materiel and the cast kicks it up a whole bunch of notches in act two. The audience finally gets a sense of what this cast can do.
David Jennings gets the first chance to really show off with 'The Viper's Drag' also known as 'The Reefer Song'. In this production, as in others I have seen, it is the most memorable number in the show and Jennings plays it for all it is worth. There is a bit of audience interaction in the number and this audience loved it.
Rheaume Crenshaw was up next with 'Mean to Me'. This song that has been successfully recorded in many genres, most successfully, I think, as a country song. Crenshaw sang the song in it's achingly beautiful traditional blues.
Tony Perry nailed the comedy of 'Your Feet's Too Big'. Big and broad, with an easy smile and affable manner, Perry has a fluid connection with his audience, a give and take that adds tremendously to his performance.
With her only solo in act one, Patrice Covington more than held her own in the duets, and trios, along with the full company numbers. I would have loved to see Covington take a full-throated solo in act two and look forward to the possibility of seeing her later in the season.
As Dance Captain, Starr Domingue is pulling double-duty. The choreography, though not difficult, is constant. There is barely any dialogue, the show moves from number to number with varying amounts of choreography. In act two, Domingue did a fine job with her solo 'Keepin' Out of Mischief Now'.
The finale is a group of songs that were recorded, but not written by Thomas 'Fats' Waller. Two of the songs have earned their place in the Great American Songbook, 'I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter' and 'I Can't Give You Anything but Love'. The full company, backed by Andrew Smithson as musical director and on keyboard, Mike Sartini on drums, Shawn Farrius on bass, Nick Jemo on trumpet and Carl Hosbond on reeds, brought the audience to its feet for a well-deserved ovation as they closed the show with the final song "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie".
Ain't Misbehavin' runs through June 15th at Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck, RI.