The 1978 Tony Award winning Best Musical, Ain’t Misbehavin is now playing at the Westchester Broadway Theater in Elmsford. The musical was created by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horowitz and is a musical tribute to Thomas “Fats” Waller the famous African American song writer and musician. Waller rose to fame during the “Harlem Renaissance” when African American artists created new music that attracted audiences from all walks of life. His style of composer, musician, and comedian spanned several decades from the 1920s to the 1940s and he wrote over 400 songs. WBT is staging this musical appropriately enough during Black History month.
The two act show is not your typical Broadway style musical. The format is music revue where one song follows another. There is no spoken parts from the cast, so the audience may feel it is more in the audience at the famous Cotton Club and less at a Broadway musical. There is no story, and is not a biography of Mr. Waller. If you are not familiar with Fats Waller, his songs may be as the 11 song Act One includes such classic hits as “Ain’t Misbehavin” and the rousing “This Joint is Jumping”. Waller himself wrote the music and left the lyrics to other composers. Many of the songs are bawdy in nature with plenty of double entendre to keep the audience amused.
Act Two is also comprised of 11 songs and the show really starts to hit its stride. The “Viper’s Drag/Reefer” song is the first number where the actors start to engage the audience and gently pull them into the action on stage. “That Ain’t Right” with lyrics by Nat King Cole is a classic blues number that highlights the many styles that Waller brought to the stage.
The brilliance of the evening is evident in the soulful “Black and Blue” with lyrics by Andy Razaf. The ensemble cast sits motionless on stools on stage and sings the haunting lyrics together:
“I’m white inside, it don’t help my case
‘Cause I can’t hide, what is on my face, oh! I’m so forlorn, life’s just a thorn. My heart is torn, why was I born? What did I do to be so black and blue?”
To this member of the audience, this was indeed the most touching and powerful moment of the evening. While Ain’t Misbehavin may not be typical musical theater, it is important and relevant as it celebrates the history of this musical awakening, and the great talents of Fats Waller and his lyricists. It also exposes the audience to a rich and vibrant musical genre. Richard Maltby Jr., the creator and original director of the 1978 production is here at WBT directing once again.
The show runs through February 24th.
For tickets and information:
Westchester Broadway Theater
One Broadway Plaza Elmsford NY
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