“This Joint is Jumpin'” aptly describes the atmosphere inside the Hillbarn Theater these days as “Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical Show” bursts onto the stage and thrills its party night audience. ‘opening.
The all-music production runs through March 27 at the venerable Foster City Theater. When it made its Broadway debut in 1978, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” was billed as a tribute to Fats Waller, but with music by various composers and lyricists. It lasted over four years and has seen many revivals since then.
In less than two hours with an intermission, Hillbarn’s version of this musical extravaganza nevertheless manages to pack in 31 songs, along with some exceptional dancing, audience participation and pleasing harmonies.
Last Friday’s audience wasn’t full, but those who were there gave a well-deserved standing ovation to the five-member cast and seven-person band. Director/choreographer Kevin Smith-Kirkwood has transformed his quintet into a near-perfect, virtually unbroken creation.
Leading the cast is Dave J. Abrams who not only sings over half of the songs, but also shows off some fancy dance moves while wooing the ladies on the floor with his sexy good looks and charm.
The other four cast members also carry their share of the song’s load. No one puts on a desperate look like Katrina Lauren McGraw, playing Nell (with a reference to Nell Carter who was in the original cast of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” on Broadway). The remaining cast, Majesty Scott, Phaedra Tillery-Boughton, and Anthone Jackson, all have plenty of opportunities to shine in solos, duets, and with full company.
Some of the standout numbers include “Lookin’ Good but Feelin’ Bad”, a pretty full song; “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do” featuring Abrams supported by the entire cast; » the funny « When the Nylons Bloom Again » sung by the female trio; McGraw’s heartfelt “Mean to Me”; the whole company singing harmoniously on “Black and Blue”; and Abrams’ full run from “The Viper’s Drag” dressed all in green and with green lighting on stage.
What’s lovely about “Behavin'” is the pacing and careful packaging of the show. At one point, when the actors sang a few slow, romantic numbers, they together shouted “Step on it!” to the group and then have them play a quick song.
The opening numbers of Act 2, “Spreading Rhythm Around” and “Lounging at the Waldorf” quickly brought the audience back into Fats Waller’s world with the women wearing gorgeous satin dresses and furs and the men wearing period hats and fine costumes. .
The final five songs are almost sung as a unit beginning with Jackson singing the well-known hit “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”. He was joined by Tillery-Boughton in “Two Sleepy People”, and they became a trio by adding Scott in “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed”. Abrams and Scott sing the duet “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”, followed by the entire company ending the show with “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” and “Honeysuckle Band”.
Before the cast could even take an encore, the Friday night audience stood up, clapped and clapped enthusiastically.
Obviously, a band is an essential part of “Behavin'”, and musical director Jasmine Butler (wearing a white tuxedo for Act 2) has assembled an excellent group of musicians: Gerald Williams on bass, William Berg on saxophone, Trevor Acevedo on clarinet, Derek James on trombone, Russ Gold on drums and Nancy Godfrey on piano.
Jasmine Williams did a great job creating period costumes, as did Jacqueline Dennis for the wigs. Congratulations also to Pamila Gray for the lighting and to Angela Yeung for the sound.
So if what you’re craving is a big bowl of “happy”, don’t miss Hillbarn’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin'”.
Tickets are $30 for youth; $52 for seniors and $58 for adults. You can purchase them online at www.hillbarntheatre.org or by calling (650) 349-6411, ext. 2. COVID protocols are in effect, so you must show valid ID, proof of vaccination status, and wear a mask inside the theater.