May 14, 2019
ONE NEVER KNOWS, DO ONE? That was the favorite expression of American songwriter Fats Waller, and one frequently heard in Ain’t Misbehavin’, which received a Tony in 1978 for best musical and ran for almost four years on Broadway. The show opened at Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre on May 8 and runs through June 9, 2019.
And one just never knows what’s going to turn up on that stage to entertain North Floridians and visitors. Last month, it was the musical version of Big, next month, it will be Disney’s The Little Mermaid (June 12 – July 28). The theatre is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit alhambrajax.com or call 904-641-1212 for reservations.
In Ain’t Misbehavin’ the audience is whisked to the Harlem of the 1930s, when Fats ruled the musical world. The music is a trip down memory lane for some and an education for others as they experience the jazz that kept Harlem hopping. Songs that many remember include “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Mean to Me,“ “Two Sleepy People,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” The most poignant number comes toward the end of Act II when the entire ensemble gathers to perform the haunting “Black and Blue,” a commentary on racism.
The musical is structured as a revue filled with song and dance, spiked at times with humor. While there is no plot, many of the songs are mini-dramas filled with passion, which are designed to reveal the characters of the singers, their relationships, and their longings.
The band is led by piano virtuoso Anthony Felton, who is well known to local theatre fans. Others in the outstanding band include Sean Tills (Bass), Greg Hersey (Drums), Carson Smisek (Trumpet), Alex Hernandez (Reeds), and Diego A. Herrada (Trombone).
Visiting performer Tarra Conner Jones, who portrays Nell, has Jacksonville roots that extend back to graduation from Edward Waters College, followed by a number of years working as an educator and in development at Duval County schools. In 2014, she embarked on a new career in theatre, where she is known for her captivating presence and gorgeous voice, has been heard in productions throughout the country. She currently lives in New York City.
Performer Cherry Hamlin is making her Alhambra debut in the role of Amelia. She has performed internationally with many major cruise lines and has appeared as a featured vocalist with New York’s Starlight Orchestra. Additionally, she has done film and television work. And who knows, you may have seen her sometime in the past as the Bride of Frankenstein at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Amitria Fanae is also making her Alhambra debut in the role of Charlene. She has performed throughout the country in singing roles, and recently received an award as Best Actress in a Musical from Broadway World for her performance as Celie in The Color Purple.
Christopher Patterson appears as Andre; he is also the choreographer. This is his first time with the Alhambra. He is multi-talented, having appeared on Broadway and in many regional theatres filling the roles of performer, director, and choreographer. His credits include touring with national productions of My One and Only and Crazy for You.
Mani Cadet, also a newcomer, appears as Ken. He has an impressive resume, which includes performances with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, Florida Grand Opera, and the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre. He recently performed in Showboat with his son Mezi at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers.
We have seen this show a number of times but can’t recall a cast as talented as this one. To use the words of Fats, the joint is jumpin’ – all night long.
Set designers Dave Dionne and Ian Black designed a stylish nightclub setting with a bandstand and a curtain that ran the full length of the stage. Daniel Dungan’s evocative lighting highlights some individual solos. (We would have liked highlights to add atmosphere to “The Viper’s Drag,” a short song about smoking marijuana, which was a favorite pastime of jazz musicians of the era.)
The Costume Crew coordinated the costumes and they are wonderful. The ladies are all dolled up in 30s finery which includes lots of mink, while the guys wear sharp suits with classy hats.
Fats Waller died in 1943 of pneumonia; he was thirty-nine years old. He left an influential musical legacy behind, and Ain’t Misbehavin’ which was conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. is a fitting tribute to the man and his work.
Director Tod Booth has turned this show featuring thirty-plus songs into a seamless evening of jazz, dance, and melodious voices with the assistance of Choreographer Christopher G. Patterson and Musical Director Cathy Murphy Giddens.
The production offers a trip back in time to the Golden Age of Jazz. And the cast will steal your heart as you sit back and enjoy this lively and largely upbeat recreation of a past era.
Review originally published on eujacksonville.com.