AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' by Fats Waller and others, directed and choreographed by Marion J. Caffey, with Jackie Richardson, Starr Domingue, Doug Eskew and Kim Richardson. Presented by CanStage and Dancap at the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Runs to June 25, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $36-$80, some Monday pwyc and half-price rush. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's a treat to see a revival of Ain't Misbehavin' , the Fats Waller musical, but while the joint is jumpin' - a title of one of Waller's songs - its make-over in the hands of director Marion J. Caffey is overdone. Think of a room that's fine with two coats of paint but instead gets four. And several unnecessarily overstuffed chesterfields, too.
Comprising several dozen songs written or recorded by the black musician, Ain't Misbehavin' mostly wants to give us a good time, and musically it does just that. Jackie Richardson heads the cast, giving generously of her heart as well as her vocal talents, and she's surrounded by strong performers, especially the sultry Divine Brown and the smooth-voiced, rubber-limbed David Lopez .
In Phillip Silver's elegant set and wearing Phillip Clarkson 's equally smart costumes, the cast moves from one toe-tapping number to the next - Honeysuckle Rose, 'Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do, Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now - and has the audience clapping for more. And you can't fault the nimble-fingered William Foster McDaniel 's piano-playing and musical direction.
But there are times when the lyrics are mush (a singer's problem or John Lott 's occasionally boxy sound design?) or Caffey's direction and overwrought comedy won't let the music and often entertaining lyrics speak for themselves. His choreography's fine, but the busy stage activity isn't. Even in a serious song like Black And Blue, Caffey underlines the anti-racist theme too heavily.
The point is brought home when Richardson sings another thoughtful song, Mean To Me, standing still and simply vocalizing real love and pain. No fancy work, no inflated moves - just honest theatre.
Too bad Ain't Misbehavin' doesn't have more moments like this.