It’s difficult to pick just one — or even just a few — highlights from Alhambra Theatre & Dining’s production of the jazz-centric “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” given the immense power of the voices of the show’s performers.
The musical boasts a small cast of just five actors, each of whom possesses a dynamic voice and magnetic stage presence. The production also benefits greatly from the ever-present on-stage band, led by pianist Anthony Felton, which performs the live numbers, and while never outshining the main actors, definitely adds to the vibrancy and authenticity of the performance. The overall feel of the production is like being invited back in time, joining some friends at a cozy nightclub for some music, laughs and even some drama.
The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1978 and won a Tony Award that year for Best Musical, pays tribute to the life and music of Thomas “Fats “Waller, and celebrates the unique musical creativity and glamour of Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s and 1930s.
There’s really no actual dialogue or a particular timeline of events, but that doesn't deter at all from the flow of the performances. All the stories are told through song and the performers’ expressions and movement, and the Alhambra cast does a phenomenal job conveying the messages through those mediums.
Songs like “Ladies Who Sing With The Band,” and “Your Feet’s Too Big” were a lot of fun, with laugh-out-loud lines, and it was hard not to join in the dancing with numbers like “Cash For Your Trash” and “The Joint is Jumpin.’” Although most of the musical numbers are fun and upbeat, there were certainly some more somber songs, including “Mean to Me,” and particularly “Black and Blue,” which served as a reminder of the time and place the musical is based, and the impact of institualized racism. ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a celebration of the black experience, artistic culture, and ethnic pride that exploded during the time in the African-American community.
The set design provides a sultry, jazz-club vibe, but it was obvious by the audience response, the singing was the main feature. Tarra Conner Jones, who plays Nell, was fantastic, with a wonderfully powerful voice and dynamic control over her instrument.
In addition to Jones, Alhambra’s production stars Cherry Hamlin, Amitria Fanae, E. Mani Cadet and Christopher G. Patterson, who also choreographed. Alhambra's production was produced and directed by Tod Booth.
But enough can’t be said about the stellar singing performances, and when the show was over, it felt like many in the audience weren't ready for the party to end.
“Ain’t Misbehavin’” runs through June 9 at Alhambra. For more information, visit alhambrajax.com.