Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the September 24,
2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’
Either by association or direct composition, the
composer, pianist, and entertainer Fats Waller (1904-1943) was famed
for "Spreadin’ Rhythm Around." Twenty-five years ago a
if small-scaled revue called "Ain’t Misbehavin’" proved a
winning homage to the great Waller. The show, originally conceived
by Richard Maltby, was so red hot, sassy and popular it moved from
the Manhattan Theater Club to Broadway where it stayed for 1,604
Its stars, (the late) Nell Carter, Andre De Shields, Armelia McQueen,
Ken Page and Charlaine Woodard became themselves virtual legends
If new legends are not likely to be made by the exuberant and
company now appearing at the Paper Mill in Milburn, the good news
is that the venerable joint is nevertheless jumpin’ these nights to
the same feverishly joyous repertoire that made audiences stand up
and cheer back in 1978.
Under the direction of Ken Roberson (also the choreographer), the
show showcases a great cast that has been carefully selected for
Good but Feelin’ Bad." And with a small, but dynamite seven-piece
onstage band featuring William Foster McDaniel at the piano where
said ivories are being tickled "Black and Blue," the show
has been newly conceived. It has been primed less for spontaneous
combustion than it has for a more low-voltage celebration of one of
the great jazz pianists of the last century.
For those with no memory of the original cast, the one at the Paper
Mill, that includes E. Faye Butler, Darius de Haas, Doug Eskew, Angela
Robinson and Natasha Yvette Williams, will satisfy the most demanding
viewers. Roberson expands upon the original idea of a steamroller
of a cabaret act (basically non-stop musical numbers) by adding bits
of backstage and on-stage business and presumably giving the
Considering the lack of intimacy in the Paper Mill, the inference
that there is life going on beyond the center spot does add a
But whether that embroidery, call it gilding the "Honeysuckle
Rose," deflects from the bountiful satire, the innocent
and the audacious attitude inherent in the extensive Waller canon
is something that purists may quibble about.
For the most part, the asides and digressions don’t necessarily throw
the show off kilter as much as they occasionally diminish the impact
of the songs being sung. The show, however, remains a group effort.
And this group is giving it their all. Butler, is a feisty bundle
of sass and has the Waller canon well in hand, having recently
runs of "Ain’t Misbehavin’" at Arena Stage, Center Stage,
and Ogunquit Playhouse. She gets some major and deserved audience
approval to her singing "Mean to Me," as well as shared
"Honeysuckle Rose" and "I’ve Got a Feeling I’m
Williams, a bountiful package of vocal pipes and a commanding
has a frisky sensuality that makes the most of "Squeeze Me."
But it was Williams’ genuinely funny takeoff on the wartime remembered
Kate Smith ("When the Nylons Bloom Again") that found
favor with many in the audience. This is part of the World War
medley that also features Butler and Robinson and includes such
(or relics) as "Cash For Your Trash," "Off Time,"
and "Yacht Club Swing."
Although de Haas, a fine performer with an endearing
appeal, slithers evocatively through the once provocative "The
Viper’s Song" (also known as "The Reefer’s Song"), he
can’t do more with the song than make it seem more than so much
pandering. De Haas displays his more ingratiating attitude with Eskew
in "How Ya Baby" and by inviting audience participation in
"Fat and Greasy." His peak is the perky duet with Robinson
"I Can’t Give You Anything But Love."
"The hefty and debonair Eskew, making his Paper Mill debut, has
no trouble making presence account for much of the show’s success
with "I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself a Letter" and
the funny "Your Feet’s Too Big." Designer Betsy Adams, who
knows just how to embrace Neil Patel’s functional set, has beautifully
lighted the show. Costumer Paul Tazewell does smartly with the earth
tones accented in Act I and dressing the entire ensemble in formal
white for Act II.
So, if everyone seems a little guilty of amending and underlying twice
what was once already written in capitals, the show, with its effusive
jitterbuggin,’ sashayin’ and struttin,’ still moves like the wind.
One of the biggest gusts comes from Robinson’s dynamically sung
Out of Mischief Now." The extended finale consisting of a medley
of songs recorded, but not composed, by Waller still packs a wallop,
as does the swinging band and its pianist/musical director William
— Simon Saltzman
973-376-4343. $30 to $67. Show runs to October 19.
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