Theater Review: 'Ain't Misbehavin'' gets Bucks joint jumpin'
"Ain't Misbehavin'" is another blockbuster show at Bucks County Playhouse, solidly putting the venue not only back on the regional theater map but giving credence to the sense that this is "Broadway on the Delaware."
"Ain't Misbehavin'" follows "Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike," Christopher Durang's Tony Award-winning comedy in which the playwright appeared opposite Marilu Henner, confirming the New Hope theater's legendary status (as if there was any doubt) as it celebrates its 75th anniversary season.
The Broadway analogy isn't far-fetched. "Ain't Misbehavin,'" continuing through Sept. 7, is on par with New York City theater fare in every aspect, from the detailed and smart Scenic Design by Wilson Chin and David L. Arsenault, to the impressive and versatile Lighting Design by Zach Blane, to the fabulous frocks and sharp dressing by Costume Designer Jennifer Caprio.
Director Hunter Foster, with choreography by Lorin Latarro, keeps the pace as fast as the jitterbug (of which there are plenty and plenty good) and the songs flowing as easy as Prohibition booze.
"Ain't Misbehavin,'" which takes its title from the 1929 Fats Waller song and is billed as "The Fats Wallter Musical Show," was conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, with the 1978 Broadway production receiving Tonys for best musical, director (Malby) and actress (Nell Carter).
The six-piece onstage band, led by conductor David Alan Bunn at the upright piano, conveys the, shall we say, high-spirited fun that the 1920s-'30's Harlem Renaissance must have been, albeit with an edge that hints of danger just beyond the footlights.
That sense of "One never knows, do one?" as Fats Waller so aptly put it, is superbly put forth in direction, choreography and especially performance by the cast of seven in the bountiful revue of some 32 songs (15, first act; 17, second act, including reprises).
The characters are nameless, as the songs are the focus, becoming metaphors for love and loss. However, it takes a strong and versatile cast to do Waller's tunes justice and the Bucks cast more than does so. To deliver it, they have to get it. They get it. And so, therefore, does the audience.
Richard Riaz Yoder and Alicia Lundgren, as the Swing Dancers, are all over the stage with fancy footwork, balletic lifts and jazzy leaps, especially with The Company in "The Jitterbug Waltz."
The Company is incredible in "Handful Of Keys" (as is Bunn's stride piano), "Fat And Greasy" and "Black And Blue," with the latter ensemble vocal work sensitive enough to bring on the chill bumps.
Adrienne Warren (Woman 2) and Max Kumangai (Man 2) are lovely in "Honeysuckle Rose" and so tender in "Two Sleepy People."
Warren is a show-stopper in "Yacht Club Swing," with a costume that is as adorable as it is hilarious. Warren is wonderfully evocative in "Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now."
Kumangai and Darius de Haas (Man 1) are amazing in "The Ladies Who Sing With The Band." Kumangai is over-the-top funny in "Your Feet's Too Big."
Aisha de Haas (Woman 1), Brandi Chavonne Massey (Woman 3), Warren and Lundgren are a sheer delight in "When The Nylons Bloom Again," which at the outset might sound silly but actually reveals much more.
Massey and Darius de Haas create a rockin' "That Ain't Right." Massey and Aisha de Haas are a sassy duo in "Find Out What They Like."
"Ain't Misbehavin'" lights up the stage at Bucks County Playhouse, transforming it into a 1920s-era cabaret of exceptional music and dancing. In its 75th season, "The Joint Is Jumpin,'" indeed.