By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Reviewer
When “Ain’t Misbehavin’” opened on Broadway to rave reviews from all the New York critics 41 years ago, they wrote the most glowing tributes I’ve ever read about any show. The show now playing at Signature Theatre deserves those kinds of accolades, too! Actually, the most succinct thing I can say about it is to repeat what Walter Kerr wrote in the Sunday New York Times in 1978. He said, “To put it as judiciously as possible, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” has a first act that will knock your ears off and a second that will come back for the rest of you.” Boom. That’s all you need to know.
But just so you know before you go…”Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a musical review of Fats Waller’s music and brings Harlem in the ‘20s and ‘30s and the Golden Age of nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom to vivid life. This was where the jazz was hot and high-steppers partied all night long. The pure energy of this show will seduce you, if the marvelous voices and the expert and loose-limbed dancing don’t.
And speaking of great voices, Iyona Blake’s singing just gets better and more delicious! This is definitely her métier! When she takes the stage, all eyes and ears are focused on her. She also dances beautifully and her costumes are drop dead gorgeous! Triple threat doesn’t begin to describe this talent! Kevin McAllister and Solomon Parker III don’t disappoint us either! They both have solo and group turns, but when they get together (both are terrific singers) on “Fat and Greasy” they are wonderfully witty! And Kevin’s “Your Feet’s Too Big” is fall-out-of-your-seat hilarious and Solomon’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” is a stunner!
Nova Payton gets to put her bright, sassy and lovely shine on her songs in “Cash for your Trash” and “Mean to Me”. She’s another triple threat lady who knows how to take the stage and demand attention! And Korinn Walfall also gets to strut her youthful stuff in the delightful “Yacht Club Swing” and in the marvelous and I MEAN marvelous ensemble numbers! The luscious harmonies created by this group of five (and sometimes six when Mark Meadows sings from the piano keyboard) will melt your heart! Also, when the entire cast sings Fats Waller’s “Black and Blue”, the show suddenly takes on a slightly darker tone, but then brightens up again with everyone joining Mark on “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”.
By the time the last song “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” comes along (waaaay too quickly, I might add), I was weak from delirious enjoyment of the evening. The terrific high-energy singing and dancing, the seven-piece magnificent band, and the entire cast’s gorgeous costumes so evocative of the ‘20s and ‘30s will, I guarantee, give you an evening never to be forgotten!
Here’s a little Opening Night tidbit which I think is very telling. Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr. conceived this show in 1978 and Murray Horwitz was in the audience for Signature’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'” Opening and Press Night. Following the show he confided to one of the cast members, “I felt as if I were back in 1978!” And that, folks, is the best indication I’ve got that Signature Theatre has a great big hit on their hands!
Creative Team: Director, Joe Calarco; Choreography, Jared Grimes; Music Direction, Mark Meadows; Scenic Design, Paige Hathaway; Costume Design, Sarita P. Fellows; Lighting Design, Sherrice Mojgani; Sound Design, Ryan Hickey; Wig and Hair Design, Tommy Kurzman; Production Stage Managers, Kerry Epstein and John Keith Hall.
Ticket and Performance Information: Running time about 2 hours with one intermission. “Ain’t Misbehavin’” runs now through March 10, 2019 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA. SigTheatre.org or 703-820-9771.