With the “30th year anniversary of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” hanging on banners swinging from poles around town, you walked into the Ahmanson Theatre expecting something special and you were not disappointed. John Lee Beatty’s vibrant yet simple set, with colors and hangings giving you that nightclub feel and a stunning painting of piano keys framing the stage above the performers, showcased a live band in the background and the piano player (William Foster McDaniel) onstage tickling the ivory. Into this environment strolled Eugene Barry-Hill, Doug Eskew, Armelia McQueen, Roz Ryan and Debra Walton opening the musical with what else but “Ain’t Misbehavin”. It was delightful to watch these performers of different generations make Thomas “Fats” Waller’s music come alive. There was something for everyone. Mr. Eskew and Ms. McQueen harmonized beautifully on “Honeysuckle Rose”. The entire company gave their own dance take on the “The Jitterbug Waltz” with Ms. Ryan and Ms. McQueen making small effective moves that told you they knew what they were doing, Mr. Eskew shifting effortlessly between the two ladies; and Ms. Walton and Mr. Barry-Hill stirring the audience to spontaneous applause with their steps. In fact Ms. Walton and Mr. Barry-Hill were amazing to watch and they had the audience anticipating when one or both would perform their next number.
Often in musicals, the songs, dancing or music will have a fantastic start and then even
off. With “Ain’t Misbehavin”, the orchestra rolled out to center stage with a reprise of “ ‘T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do” highlighting the clarinet and horn of Frank Fontaine and Will Miller and were joined by the company in an second act opening that brought the audience to its feet. Then Gail Balsoni draped the ladies in furs and hats for the company to handle “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around”. Mr. Barry-Hill’s dance and singing were hypnotic in “The Viper’s Drag/The Reefer Song”. The audience laughed along with Mr. Eskew’s rendition of “Your Feet’s Too Big”. The ladies, Ms. McQueen and Ms. Ryan, using their experience and talent, played with the audience as they sang “Find Out What They Like”.
|For Tickets Call: 213-972-2772 Photo by: Craig Schwartz|
But the showstopper was the company’s interpretation of “Black and Blue”. Their soloing and harmonizing made the phrase, “you could have heard a pin drop” readily understandable. And then each member of the company began to use their voice as an individual instrument and the theatre was filled with soaring notes that enthralled the audience and I imagine, pleased Thomas “Fats” Waller.