Riverside Dinner Theater Ain’t Misbehavin’By Genie Baskir • Feb 5th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Riverside Dinner Theater: (Info) (Web)
Riverside Dinner Theater, Fredericksburg, VA
Through March 10th
2:00 with one intermission
$55-$60/$50-$55 Seniors/$40 Child
Reviewed February 3rd, 2013
Dinner theatre is one of those genres that can be amazingly dreadful or superb, surprisingly or not. Ain’t Misbehavin’, currently playing at the Riverside Dinner Theatre in Fredericksburg, is of the most definite latter. Let’s dispense with the minor bummers first. The music wasn’t live. Recorded tracks instead of a live orchestra on that sizable stage was disappointing mainly because the five splendid performers in this show deserved live music. Their chemistry together would have been complete brilliance in concert with musicians equal to their caliber of art. The dinner?…meh…It is possible to see the show without having to have the dinner, but it was okay enough so that the mediocre meal was part of the fun. Okay, that’s over.
Ain’t Misbehavin’, the title of this show and one of the most famous songs of the Jazz Age, is an homage to a composer and artist called “the black Horowitz” by Oscar Levant; no amateur himself when it came to tickling those ivories. Thomas “Fats” Waller was an American prodigy like no other in his time and his legacy is a delightful walk back into a time when the most consummately talented artists persevered against all segregationist odds.
None of the performers bore what might kindly be called a regulation Bolshoi physique. Thus, the energy required to present this show did not leave anyone worrying that a performer or two might fall over from the breath expended in belting out a selection of Waller’s breathtaking (I couldn’t resist) tunes. Kadejah One, Kimberly Fox Knight, Theresa A. Cunningham, Jerrial Young and Brandon Martin resound with personality in addition to performing skill and made for a wildly curated ride back in time to Harlem of the Jazz Age. Cunningham, in particular reminded me of the late LaVern Baker, with her low, back of the throat trill.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ seems to me to be the kind of a show where the performers need audience involvement to enhance their own performances. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on one’s age, the average age of this audience was about 70 years old and these people just didn’t have the energy to participate; although everyone made his and her pleasure known at the end of the show. I would have been thrilled to have a dance floor so I could boogie along to the music and the stunning vocals instead of getting a seat burn on my tuches.
The scene (Phil Carlucci) was simple but effective for the musical presentation and the transitions involved with the collection of songs. The women’s costumes (Gaye Law) were just beautiful, flattering and sparkly and colorful. The men’s costumes (Keith Walker) were less showy: but they reflected the fit of the times and made Young and Martin into Jazz Age men pounding the pavement of Tin Pan Alley trying to get a break.
However, the lighting and technical direction (Phil Carlucci) made this show a cut above what the cognoscenti usually deride as dinner theatre. Nicky Mahon’s lighting design and Ben Feindt’s stage management made for a visually punchy presentation and I noticed no missed cues or flaws. Feindt, incidentally, was our waiter for the afternoon and he was very sweet.
On a Sunday afternoon, with light traffic on I 95 South, the trip to Riverside Center took about 35 minutes. This Ain’t Misbehavin’ is worth the shortish drive to get to Riverside Center and is just a lovely show with beautiful and personable performers. Worth the drive and the chicken fried steak is not bad at all.
Ain’t Misbehavin’, a celebration of the songs, the life and times of jazz great Thomas “Fats” Waller, was an instant hit when it opened on Broadway on 1978. Although no actor actually impersonates Waller in the production, the five singers who take us into Waller’s world–Harlem in the 20’s and 30’s–evoke the spirit and personality of the man.
Waller was a highly gifted Black American musician, who often in collaboration with Harry Brooks and lyricist Andy Razaf, produced hit after hit from the mid 20’s until his death in 1943 at the age of 39. His musical career started with playing the organ in the Abyssinian Baptist Church and studying classical piano. By the time he was 25, he and Razaf had written the score for the Broadway hit Hot Chocolates, which included the songs “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Black and Blue.”
In the late 70’s, Murray Horwitz invited Richard Maltby, Jr. to listen to some rare Waller recordings. The wit of the song lyrics and the stylistic piano scores convinced Maltby that Waller’s music and personality could be brought to life on stage. Soon, a host of collaborators was hard at work producing the show.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ initially opened at the Manhattan theatre Club; shortly afterward, it moved to Broadway, and now it is at Riverside! I hope you enjoy the show.
Photos provided by Riverside Dinner Theater
- Kadejah One, Kimberly Fox Knight, Theresa A. Cunningham, Jerrial Young, Brandon Martin
- Producer: Rollin E. Wehman
- Director/Choreographer: Patti D’Beck
- Musical Director: Rollin E. Wehman
- Production Manager: Carole Schrader
- Scenic Adaptation: Phil Carlucci
- Costume Design: Gaye Law
- Lighting Design: Nicky Mahon
- Scenic Artist: Matthew P. Westcott
- Technical Director: Phil Carlucci
- Stage Manager: Ben Feindt
Disclaimer: Riverside Dinner Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9109.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.