Quietly sipping a beer in the Southwark Playhouse bar you can just hear the sound of the band tuning up. Such are the joys of fringe theatre you hear things that would be out of the question in bigger venues. I was at the playhouse to see a revival of the brilliant Ain’t Misbehavin’. Whilst billed as a revue it’s essentially a greatest hits package, featuring the songs of legendary jazzman Fats Waller. It follows a similar format to Five Guys Named Moe, itself a tribute to bebop pioneer Louis Jordan. Neither are burdened by storylines aside from a narrative offered within the songs. But the key as always is in the staging and this production does not put a foot wrong.
The auditorium is covered in brass and gold literally everywhere you care to look. Brass fittings cover the floor and ceiling lights while the stage shimmers with a golden glow. But nothing dazzles quite so much as the five performers on that stage. A tight five piece band comprised of piano, double bass, sax and trumpet strangely has the drummer concealed backstage. Nevertheless they provide solid support to Adrian Hansel, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Landi Oshinowo, Renee Lamb and Wayne Robinson. This talented quintet breathe life into songs that have since entered into the great American song book.
Act I moved at a breath taking pace with sparkling set pieces. The cast take solo spots, duets and full ensemble numbers, the standouts being the more up tempo numbers like The joint is jumpin’ and jitterbug waltz. Act II shines with some spine tingling ballads, especially Mean to me, a song made famous by Billie Holliday and Keeping out of mischief now (beautifully sung by Carly Mercedes Dyer). The raffish humour of Fats Waller is well represented by Fat and greasy and Your Feet’s too big as the nudge, nudge of a double entente is never too far away.
There are many ways to judge a show of this type. The undoubted quality of the production would naturally garner a four star marking. But what did it do to go the whole nine yards and gain that extra star? It was technically excellent; I didn’t detect a stray note or foot out of place (a remarkable achievement, particularly for female members of the cast jumping up and down stairways in high heels). Then there is the pure entertainment value of a production that makes you smile from ear to ear. Ain’t Misbehavin’ ticks both boxes. Go to the top of the class girls and boys!
Original Concept: Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr
Based on the songs of: Fats Waller and others
Director: Tyrone Huntley
Choreographer: Oti Mabuse
Musical Directors: Alex Cockle and Steven Edis
Producers: Paul Taylor Mills in association with the Mercury Theatre Colchester and Tamasha Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking Link: https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/aint-misbehavin/
Booking Until: 1 June 2019