Paul T Davies reviews Ain’t Misbehavin’ – The Fats Waller musical now playing at the Mercury Theatre Colchester prior to a run at Southwark Playhouse.
Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
Book Now – Mercury Theatre
Book Now – Southwark Playhouse
To call the creative team for this revival of the Fats Waller musical gold standard would be an understatement. Directed by Olivier nominee and Evening Standard award winner Tyrone Huntley, (for Judas in Regent’s Park open air Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar), and choreographed by Strictly professional dancer Oti Mabuse, it’s quite a coup for Colchester’s Mercury Theatre. Add to that a company of outstanding talent, a superb set design by tokis, excellent lighting and a terrific band, and Hunter’s directorial debut hits the ground dancing before it heads to the Southwark Playhouse in London!
It’s not a musical in the traditional sense, it has no linear storyline and is more a revue that showcases Fats Waller the musician and song writer, and it feels mean to single out any of the five strong performers. Adrian Hansel, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Landi Oshinowo, Renée Lamb and Wayne Robinson are all terrific, singing gloriously and sensitively to the demands of each song, and, as you would expect from a Strictly dancer, each song tells a story through movement, facial expressions and intention superbly. If I was pushed though, I would say that Carly Mercedes Dyer has outstanding comedic skills, and throughout there are many solos that showcase the exceptional talent here. (I also loved You’re Feet’s Too Big!) The band is absolutely terrific and take my tip- sit on the seats onstage! Don’t worry, there’s no audience participation, and you will be close to the action and the sound is incredible!
If I have one reservation, it’s that the show doesn’t tell us anything about Fats Waller’s life- and it was an incredibly short one at that. It is presented in the style of a revue and takes us back to the heady days of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s, and Waller was a pioneer here in an important and brief time of liberation for African American artists. In celebrating that era and taking us back to that atmosphere, the show triumphs, but I wanted to know more about the man- and society outside the bubble of Harlem jazz clubs. The best song in the show is the incredible Black and Blue, which deals with racism, and is heart stopping in its singing and lyrics. The original production won the Tony for Best Musical in 1978, and perhaps a fresh look at Waller’s life is now needed.
That aside, though, this is a glorious production to celebrate, and the Mercury co-production with Paul Taylor-Mills and Tamasha will give Londoners a great night out! Sassy, sexy and sequined, get yourself a slice of Harlem history while you can!
BOOK NOW – MERCURY THEATRE COLCHESTER
BOOK NOW – SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE