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Ain’t Misbehavin’ at San Diego Musical Theatre

Amber Mercomes, Rufus Bonds Jr. Jenelle Randal
Amber Mercomes, Rufus Bonds Jr. Jenelle Randal

Ain't Misbehavin': The Fats Waller Musical Show

Some definitions:

Harlem Renaissance: a flourishing of African-American art centered on, but not exclusive to, Harlem. Begun in the 1920s, it included writing by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and innovative music by Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, and Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller made the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theatre the hottest spots in town.

Many say it wasn’t a renaissance – a “re-birth” – since it carried on a long tradition of boundary-busting, only this time with more light on it.

Stride piano: offspring of Ragtime. A jazz style where the left hand’s like the rhythm section in a band, while the right hand syncopates and embellishes the melody. The left hand hops up and down; the right jitterbugs sideways, back and forth, across the keys.

“Fats” Waller (1904-1943). See San Diego Musical Theatre’s Ain’t Misbehavin’. Originally conceived by Murray Horowitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., the piece provides few biographical details. Instead, the revue releases the energy of the “renaissance,” the spunk of the “stride” style (among others), and Waller’s irrepressible spirit.

Sylvia MacCalla & David LaMarr

(It’s too bad some details aren’t included, like the time four thugs kidnapped the 285 pound Waller in Chicago, took him to the Hawthorne Inn, and ordered him to perform at gunpoint – for Al Capone’s birthday party, for which Waller, after the initial shock, played three days and nights and earned thousands of dollars).

Like Waller, the Ron Kellum-directed, SDMT production is sassy through and through. As singers belt, probing fingers misbehave and entendre’s double. Some of the lyrics have sexual codes. The impish, five-person cast makes sure that no meanings remain hidden.

As when Ken (Rufus Bonds, Jr.) and Nell (Sylvia MacCalla) sing Waller’s immortal “Honeysuckle Rose,” with a defiant emphasis on syllable number three.

There’s so much talent it’s hard – nay, almost unfair – to single out highlights. That said, David LaMarr’s sly, comic version of “The Viper’s Drag” (aka. “The Reefer Song,” which he sings while smoking a goodly-sized spliff) is a must see/hear. As is the quintet’s “(What Did I Do to Get So) Black and Blue” – doing William Elliott’s gorgeous choral arrangement. And Amber Mercomes’ “Squeeze Me,” and just about every move Jenelle Randall makes, be it singing or dancing (even doing both badly on purpose in the hilarious “Yacht Club Swing”).

The cast performs on a club/bandstand set, the inverted U-shaped arch framed with piano keys (as if ergonomic for a giant). The band - paced by Wreckless Watson on drums and Lanny Hartley’s textbook Stride style, piano accompaniment - keeps the “joint jumpin” all night long.

You feeling down? You feeling blue? SDMT’s got a show for you!

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Amber Mercomes, Rufus Bonds Jr. Jenelle Randal
Amber Mercomes, Rufus Bonds Jr. Jenelle Randal

Ain't Misbehavin': The Fats Waller Musical Show

Some definitions:

Harlem Renaissance: a flourishing of African-American art centered on, but not exclusive to, Harlem. Begun in the 1920s, it included writing by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and innovative music by Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, and Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller made the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theatre the hottest spots in town.

Many say it wasn’t a renaissance – a “re-birth” – since it carried on a long tradition of boundary-busting, only this time with more light on it.

Stride piano: offspring of Ragtime. A jazz style where the left hand’s like the rhythm section in a band, while the right hand syncopates and embellishes the melody. The left hand hops up and down; the right jitterbugs sideways, back and forth, across the keys.

“Fats” Waller (1904-1943). See San Diego Musical Theatre’s Ain’t Misbehavin’. Originally conceived by Murray Horowitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., the piece provides few biographical details. Instead, the revue releases the energy of the “renaissance,” the spunk of the “stride” style (among others), and Waller’s irrepressible spirit.

Sylvia MacCalla & David LaMarr

(It’s too bad some details aren’t included, like the time four thugs kidnapped the 285 pound Waller in Chicago, took him to the Hawthorne Inn, and ordered him to perform at gunpoint – for Al Capone’s birthday party, for which Waller, after the initial shock, played three days and nights and earned thousands of dollars).

Like Waller, the Ron Kellum-directed, SDMT production is sassy through and through. As singers belt, probing fingers misbehave and entendre’s double. Some of the lyrics have sexual codes. The impish, five-person cast makes sure that no meanings remain hidden.

As when Ken (Rufus Bonds, Jr.) and Nell (Sylvia MacCalla) sing Waller’s immortal “Honeysuckle Rose,” with a defiant emphasis on syllable number three.

There’s so much talent it’s hard – nay, almost unfair – to single out highlights. That said, David LaMarr’s sly, comic version of “The Viper’s Drag” (aka. “The Reefer Song,” which he sings while smoking a goodly-sized spliff) is a must see/hear. As is the quintet’s “(What Did I Do to Get So) Black and Blue” – doing William Elliott’s gorgeous choral arrangement. And Amber Mercomes’ “Squeeze Me,” and just about every move Jenelle Randall makes, be it singing or dancing (even doing both badly on purpose in the hilarious “Yacht Club Swing”).

The cast performs on a club/bandstand set, the inverted U-shaped arch framed with piano keys (as if ergonomic for a giant). The band - paced by Wreckless Watson on drums and Lanny Hartley’s textbook Stride style, piano accompaniment - keeps the “joint jumpin” all night long.

You feeling down? You feeling blue? SDMT’s got a show for you!

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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