‘Ain’t Misbehavin” at Riverside Center Dinner Theater by Julia L. Exline

Riverside Center Dinner Theater presents Ain’t Misbehavin’, a Tony Award-winning musical that celebrates the life and music of Thomas “Fats” Waller. Conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz and with musical adaptations, orchestrations, and arrangements by Luther Henderson, Ain’t Misbehavin’ takes you into the heart of the jazz era—1920’s and 30’s Harlem where Fats Waller’s music thrived. A treat for both the eyes and ears, Patti D’Beck directs and choreographs this foot-tappin’ production, with musical direction by Rollin E. Wehman.

Kadejah One (left), Theresa Cunningham and Kimberly Knight..Photo by Elijah Nouvelage.
Kadejah One (left), Theresa Cunningham and Kimberly Knight. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage.

Scenic Adaptor Phil Carlucci and Scenic Artist Matthew P. Westcott lend a jazzy vibe to the stage with a backdrop of runched curtains and a large archway painted to resemble piano keys that stand over a raised platform. A portrait of Fats Waller appropriately dangles from the ceiling. Lighting, however, is the main event for this atmosphere, designed by Nicky Mahon. Spotlights follow the performers during slower numbers, and bulbs that line both the stage and the archway flash on and off to the beat of the music. The overall dominating hue is purple, but many colors are used throughout the show, making it exciting and never boring. Costume designer Gaye Law does a fine job representing the era and culture with bold, glittery satin dresses, feather boas, and elbow-length gloves. Tan suits and hats make good choices for the men, but they can hardly compete with the women’s overall sparkle.

The performers include Kadejah Oné, Kimberly Fox Knight, Theresa A. Cunningham, Jerrial Young, and Brandon Martin, and together they jump right into the music with an upbeat rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The show has a quickness to it as they transition from song to song, going from solos, duets, and ensembles one after another. Playful choreography is worked into “’T Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do,” and the slow, sweet duet “Honeysuckle Rose” sung by Jerrial and Kadejah is particularly memorable. Fun dance moves such as the jitterbug, swing, and tap are worked into the songs, and the performers sing and dance together perfectly. Diva-like personalities bring a spirited quality as well, when the girls constantly try to one-up each other, to the point of pushing and shoving for the microphone in the song, “When the Nylons Bloom Again.” Love triangles and cheating drama is at the center of the song, “That Ain’t Right,” and is played out onstage by Brandon and Theresa. The famous song, “This Joint is Jumpin’” is especially entertaining, as they make a spectacle of a club being shut down by the police while they’re singing it!

Though most of the song and dance numbers are playful, fun, and upbeat, beautiful and poignant harmonizing is also present, most memorably in the song, “Black and Blue.” The singers all have outstanding voices and commanding stage presences, which make them a pleasure to watch. Audience interaction is also a big part of the show, with encouragement to sing along, asking a few questions, and even bringing an audience member onstage to dance at one point! Playing invisible instruments during the finale “Honeysuckle Band” was a perfect way to end the evening.

The music and voices in this show are phenomenal, and the overall tone effervescent and fun.

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I highly recommend Ain’t Misbehavin’ for a great evening of entertainment!

Running Time:Approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ plays through March 10th, 2013 at Riverside Center Dinner Theater – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For reservations, call (540) 370-4300.


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