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MailTribune.com
  • Review: 'Ain't Misbehavin'

    Oregon Cabaret gets rowdy, '20s style, in this tribute to jazz pianist Fats Waller
  • This joint is jumpin' — definitely. "Ain't Misbehavin'," the high-energy, song-and-dance revue installed at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre for the summer, is a joyful tribute to the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller, the exuberant jazz pianist and composer of the 1920s and '30s.
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    • If you go
      What: "Ain't Misbehavin'"
      Where: Oregon Cabaret Theatre, First and Hargadine, Ashland
      When: Through Aug. 31
      Tickets: www.oregoncabaret.com or 541-488-2902
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      If you go
      What: "Ain't Misbehavin'"

      Where: Oregon Cabaret Theatre, First and Hargadine, Ashland

      When: Through Aug. 31

      Tickets: www.oregoncabaret.com or 541-488-2902
  • This joint is jumpin' — definitely. "Ain't Misbehavin'," the high-energy, song-and-dance revue installed at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre for the summer, is a joyful tribute to the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller, the exuberant jazz pianist and composer of the 1920s and '30s.
    The Cabaret production, directed by Cabaret artistic director Jim Giancarlo and choreographed by Giancarlo and Christopher George Patterson, presents 30 of Waller's hits — songs he composed, songs he recorded and songs he probably wrote but were officially attributed to others.
    It will have you tappin' your toes and clappin' your hands to its joyfully rowdy music.
    Giancarlo has again assembled a remarkably talented cast of singers and dancers, including Cabaret veteran performer and director Patterson, as well as Ashley D. Kelley, Abena Mensah-Bonsu, Rod Singleton and Roslyn Seale, all making their Cabaret debut.
    Patterson is a delightful dancer, mischievous and charming — the embodiment of Waller's infectious and ebullient spirit. Singleton's deep voice and suave manner is the perfect counterpoint to him. Seale has an engaging yet sassy awkwardness and the dance skills to match Patterson.
    Kelley and Mensah-Bonsu both bring a remarkable vocal range and the training to take the jazzy melodies to a higher level.
    The songs bounce from sly and raunchy ("Honeysuckle Rose" and "Find Out What They Like") to sweetly romantic ("Two Sleepy People," "The Jitterbug Waltz" and "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling") to silly and slap-happy ("Your Feets Too Big") and just generally joyful ("How Ya Baby," "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" and "The Joint is Jumpin' ").
    There's a nod to the era's "swells" from Park Avenue who traveled to Harlem to be entertained by black performers at the Cotton Club, the Apollo Theater and the Lenox Lounge ("Lounging at the Waldorf," "Spreadin' Rhythm Around"). And because not everything in Harlem was upbeat joy and jazz, there are also some wrenchingly honest songs describing personal pain ("Black and Blue," "Mean To Me").
    A three-piece band — musical director Jordan Richardson on piano along with Daryl Fjeldheim on reeds and Tom Freeman on drums — is tucked away in a gallery above the stage.
    Craig Hudson designed an elegant, jazzy art-deco set that frames the action and recreates the style and pizzazz of the period. Kerri Lea Robbins' splashy, sparkly costumes capture it all, from the elaborate zoot suits for the guys and fitted, shoulder-padded suits for the women in the first act to slinky gowns and tuxes in the second.
    The show, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horowitz, opened on Broadway in 1978. It received the Tony Award that year for Best Musical.
    Fats Waller embodied the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural movement that brought the originality of African-American music, literature and art into the mainstream of American culture. His music lives on in such standards as "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" and "Ain't Misbehavin'."
    Waller died from pneumonia in 1943 at the age of 39. At his Harlem funeral — attended by more than 4,000 people — pastor and politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. observed that "Fats Waller always played to a packed house."
    Join the house. "Ain't Misbehavin'" plays at the Cabaret through August 31.
    Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.
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