Having never been to a musical at Trustus Theatre before, I went in with an open mind, and my suspension of disbelief was as high as the sky. Upon discovering that Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue, my expectations lowered a bit. In fact, when I first walked in and saw that the band was the focal point at center stage, and that the set design was predominantly muted by a grey wash, I thought that perhaps this might not be quite the show for me. I mean, who wants the band or orchestra to be the focal point? However, from the first musical number, I could tell I was in for a very entertaining evening.
With a cast of only five members and non-stop musical numbers, one might not expect for there to be much character development, or relationships between the characters. In this case one would be wrong. Director Terrence Henderson took what could have been an otherwise repetitive evening of Thomas “Fats” Waller songs and dynamically wove a very fun and diverse tapestry of quirky characters, relationships, and amazing singing. This show is more than simply an homage to Fats Waller. Typically, I would choose the standout performances to highlight in my review. However, all of the performances were equal in effectiveness. Devin Anderson has once again shown audiences that she has both the vocal and acting chops to fill any stage. Last seen in The Color Purple at Workshop Theatre, Anderson has revealed to audiences that she is much more than a one-note dramatic actress. Her various characterizations and songs will make you laugh and feel as you may never have before. In my opinion, Avery Bateman is the stage equivalent to the Sun, and can blindingly brighten any theatre. Much like Anderson, I last saw Katrina Blanding in The Color Purple in a very dramatic performance. Like Anderson, Katrina created a wonderful, multi-layered character that I couldn’t take my eyes off of, even during another performer’s songs. Rounding out the cast are Kendrick Marion and Samuel McWhite, the latter of whom I also saw in The Color Purple. These two gentlemen, while providing the perfect foils for the strong female characters, each had his own particular flavor. Marion played more of the fun, charming, energetic, and nice guy while McWhite boasted as more of the player going through the female characters smoothly and confidently. They were the perfect bookends in the library of Waller tunes.
Much like other musical revues, and shows like Cats, Ain’t Misbehavin’ easily could have provided an evening of entertaining songs without any other substance. Henderson thankfully did not accept this as his vision of the production. Although the set was a bit bland, which I venture to guess could have been on purpose so the colorful characters and their costumes could be illuminated, it was divided into its own little worlds inside this Cotton Club. The bar seemed to have been a nice little rest area for the entertainers to have a drink, and a place for Blanding’s character to go fume about the attention Bateman’s character was getting from the men. The sitting area on stage left provided a place where the audience could be let in to the dynamic of relationships between the company members. Finally, the upstairs dressing room allowed us to peek behind the curtain and see how the “performers” took breaks.
All in all this revue proved to provide more than just songs from a time gone by. In fact, early in the first act there was a nice reminder of this time with a video projection onstage of Fats Waller and the era in which he lived. The music, under the direction of Walter Graham, was both playful and effective, and the members seemed to be having as much fun as the cast. Additionally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that not only did Terrance Henderson direct, but also choreographed. The dancing was as fun, energetic, and seemingly natural as the acting and singing performances. As with the rest of the performances, the dancing resonated as more spontaneous and impromptu than choreographed. Ain't Misbehavin' runs through Sat. July 20th at Trustus Theatre; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for more information, or visit www.trustus.org.
~ Stephen Ingle