Fans of Harlem jazz, rejoice — Ain’t Misbehavin’ is captivating audiences right here in Houston and transporting them to the Manhattan nightclubs of the Jazz Age.
Theatre Under the Stars’ production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a tribute to the music of Fats Waller, a Harlem jazz pianist. TUTS brings the musical revue to the Hobby Center with a bit of a modern feel. The show’s original production won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1978, and Ain’t Misbehavin’ has been capturing audiences ever since.
In an interview with OutSmart, cast member David LaMarr discussed the camaraderie of working with such a talented group of artists at TUTS; the show features an all-Black cast, orchestra, and creative team.
What makes the show work so well is its pacing—30 songs fly by with a two-hour runtime that never feels like the show is slogging along or rushing forward without the audience’s attention. Upbeat numbers like “T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do” are balanced by the slower songs that follow like “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Squeeze Me.” The show’s 15-minute intermission feels like it comes too fast, if only because I found myself all too eager for the show to begin again.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on the chemistry of the cast and their ease on the stage. Across the board, you can sense the familiarity among cast members and the life that their energy gives the show from the opening notes of the show. Dancing and singing their way through the musical revue that was a precursor to the jukebox musicals of today, the show’s cast makes every inch of Sarofim Hall feel like it’s brimming with energy.
The ensemble cast stuns, standing out both as individuals and in their work together. In this truly joyous production, LaMarr is charmingly charismatic in every number, whether with his castmates or when chatting with the few audience members seated on stage in the production—complete with being dressed in costumes that fit the scene, leaving the audience laughing both on and off stage.
Paris Bennett’s belt enchants an audience, garnering a round of applause not only at the end of a number but at the end of the notes she hits, holds, and sustains, and Melrose Johnson gives crooning ballads life on stage.
Ashley Támar Davis’s solos speed along, folding audiences into the music with her, and Will Mann’s voice fills the stage from his first appearance. In “Your Feet’s Too Big,” Mann has the audience roaring with laughter from the first words to the end.
With the stage glimmering in gold and gleaming with the most romanticized images of the Jazz Age, the first reveal of the orchestra resulted in audible breaths from the audience, and the every aspect of the production stunned audiences into silence as much as it brought them to raucous laughter.
Monique L. Midgette’s take on Ain’t Misbehavin’ feels both immediate and classic, and her direction delivers a show that brings new meaning to the word “ensemble” with a cast that truly leans on and into each other in each number while shining on their own.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a must-see for jazz novices and aficionados alike, for avid theater-goers and musical theater newbies. It is truly a show that can charm anyone.
[email protected], a special post-show party for LGBTQ musical theater fans and allies, with free bites, drink specials, and live music, is on September 29. The Broadway Beauty of Texas, Regina Thorne-DuBois hosts. The show continues through October 2, 2022.