Fires in Northern California, threats of war with North Korea, the possible decimation of parts of the ACA for children, senior and the poor; the tragedy in Las Vegas, political uncertainly, etc, etc. Too much sadness and loss. So lift your spirits by gettin’ yourselves down to San Francisco’s Gateway Theatre to rock out with 42nd Street Moon’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” On now till October 29. 215 Jackson Street.
I’m not overly fond of musicals, but since I’ve heard and loved Fats Waller’s music all my life, I just had to see 42nd Moon’s production.
The man’s rollicking, joyous, and infectious music had us clapping, singing and dancing in the aisle. Pianist, singer, songwriter and comedian, he was one of major figures of 20th century jazz. Expect five top-notch artists to give you an evening of non-stop, high-energy singing and dancing while celebrating one of America’s greatest contributors to America’s songbook.
The show, conceived and originally directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. , with its excellent cast and musicians, met and surpassed my expectations. The gorgeously detailed set, designed by Brian Watson with lighting by Maxx Kurzunski, replicated a cabaret in full swing. A jazz quartet on stage, with pianist Dave Dubrusky (who also conducted), Nick Di Scala on clarinet, tenor and bass sax, Amanda Wu on stand-up bass; and Tim Vaughan on drums literally rocked the house. Luther Henderson created the musical adaptations, orchestrations and arrangements. The performers, costumed in spot-on, uptown dress consistent with the styles of the late 1920s, early ’30s, by Bethany Deal, belted out some of Waller’s mostly upbeat, jazzy tunes, and other Tin Pan Alley popular lyricists and composers at the time, as they danced. Credit is owed to Jefferey Polk for original choreography designed for the limited space downstage, with musical staging by Arthur Faria. Bethany Deal created beautiful, stylish and accessorized, sumptuous dresses for Katrina Lauren McGraw and Erica Richardson.
I can’t say enough for the cast who reprise roles originally created for the Manhattan Theatre Club, on Broadway: Lithe, sexy Ashley D. Gallo (also the Dance Captain), wearing a knee length torso-fitting red dress with a swing skirt, nailed it in a role originated by Charliane Woodard. And of course, as Waller, Branden “Noel” Thomas was excellent moving across the stage in tweeds, spats, and porkpie hat. He reprises the role originated by Ken Page. Aris-Allen Roberson, playing the dandy in all the ramifications such a role requires. He is especially notable singing “The Viper’s Drag” OWKA “The Reefer Song” which is, of course, an ode to marijuana. (Twenty-nine states had banned marijuana by 1931. The Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 effectively criminalized marijuana in the entire United States. He was still touring at the time of his death by pneumonia in 1943 on a cross-country train trip in Kansas City, Missouri.) The show is not all hi-steppin’ energy. One of the most beautifully rendered songs is “Jitterbug Waltz” sung by Branden, Katrina and Company; and “Mean to Me” with music and lyrics by Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert.
Other wonderful performances were those of Katrina Lauren McGraw in the part originated by Amellia McQueen, and Erica Richardson, in a role originated by the great Nell Carter. Well-known songs by Waller and others, like Honeysuckle Rose; Mean to Me, Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now and Black and Blue, were sung animatedly and suggestively, by members of the cast. I implore you not to miss this wonderful show.
For more information: dates and tickets , go to www.42ndstmoon.org