by Pat Craig ----Contra Costa Tiimes
Article Launched: 09/10/2008 12:36:58 PM PDT

Thomas "Fats" Waller's work conjures images of the Harlem Renaissance, the furtive pleasures of Prohibition and the sheer joy of sexy, boozy hedonism that comes alive in the dialogue-free musical biography "Ain't Misbehavin'."

The truth is, you don't need any dialogue to tell the story of Waller — it's all there in the lyrics of his songs. From "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "The Joint Is Jumpin'" to "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Black and Blue," the lyrics give you everything you need to know about both the man and the remarkable time in which he lived.

And hearing it performed by the flat-out fantastic cast and orchestra assembled by Center Repertory Company, you get the clear impression that Waller packed a lot of living into his 39 years, and sampled his share of sex, drugs and stride-piano swing that was the Roaring '20s predecessor to rock 'n' roll.

Director/choreographer Robert Barry Fleming assembled five outstanding performers — Anika Bobb, Clinton Derricks-Carroll, Marcie Henderson, Tareek Lee Holmes and Anise E. Ritchie — to tell the story. And musical director Thaddeus Pinkston directed a wild jazz band to deliver Waller's evocative music.

At first blush, "Ain't Misbehavin'" seems to be simply a collection of Waller's tunes, which would be fine, since he wrote any number of standards: the title tune, "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." Any evening of his music would be extremely entertaining.

But by carefully selecting and arranging the tunes, Richard Maltby Jr., who conceived the show, created an extremely moving portrait of the '20s, '30s and early '40s, when Waller did the bulk of his work.

In turn, Fleming and Pinkston give the show the sound and feel of the era, to the point where it seems the musical came directly from a record made in the '20s.

And the performers are able to capture that feeling, not only with the spangled dress, derby hat and raccoon coat costumes, but by adapting both the voice and physicality of the era.

Derricks-Carroll is particularly skilled at that, particularly when he performs the show-stopping "The Viper's Drag," a 1943 homage to marijuana, and when he teams with Holmes for "Fat and Greasy."

He also has a tremendous chemistry with Bobb when the two of them perform duets.

"Ain't Misbehavin'" is simply a whole lot of fun. And it's a joyous, tuneful way to spend an evening learning a bit more about an American original who, although maybe born before his time, made an enormous mark on American music and culture and created a style and attitude for pop music that is still being heard today.

TheatreWorld Internet Magazine

Need an evening out to relieve you from all the TV political shenanigans, a tiring week at the office, a day with the kids running rampant or even a bad hair day? Whatever, go to see “Ain’t Misbehavin'” ‘a swinging, rollicking, and finger-snapping tribute to the African-American musicians of the 1920s and '30s.’ Center Rep has rounded up diverse, top-notch singers/dancers who cut up a storm and seem to be having as much fun as the appreciative audience. They are accompanied by a seven piece onstage band positioned on a moveable platform with musical director Thaddeus Pinkston fingering the piano keys that would make Fats Waller proud. “Ain’t Misbehavin’” had an inauspicious start at as cabaret show at the Manhattan Theatre Club on East 73rd Street in 1978. The popular response was so great that they mounted a full-scale production for Broadway that played for 1604 performances. Since that time it has made the rounds in the U.S. and Europe including a successful run on London’s West End. There have been many revivals, one of which included the Pointer Sisters. The five outstanding performers (alphabetically)Anika Bobb, Clinton Derricks-Carroll, Marcie Henderson, Tareek Lee Holmes and Anise E. Ritchie recreate the memories of the Harlem Renaissance through music under the astute control of director/choreographer Robert Barry Fleming. The pacing and song placement are superb. Starting with a canned segment of “Fats” singing one of his songs and Pinkston picking up the refrain on the upright piano. Then the joint comes alive with high energy from the opening number Ain’t Misbehavin” to the hand clapping sing-a-long Fat & Greasy lead by Holmes ( a big man in the image of “Fats” Waller) and Derricks-Carroll near the end of the show before the finale that includes, I'm Gonna Sit Right Down & Write Myself a Letter, Two Sleepy People, I've Got My Fingers Crossed, I Can't Give You Anything But Love and Its A Sin To Tell A Lie. There are so many great moments it is difficult to select which ones to give individual praise. Solo numbers morph into duets, trios, quartets and, of course, ensemble quintets. Clinton Derricks-Carroll shares lascivious moments with all of the girls and dances up a storm with Anika Bobb. The marvelous gaudy costumes of wide stripped bright colored jackets for the boys and form fitting delights for the girls in act one, get even better for act two. Holmes’ wearing an overly large fur coat over his black pinstriped suit, was a big hit. Act one showcases: Ain't Misbehavin', Lookin' good But Feelin' Bad, 'Tain't Nobody's Bizness if I Do, Honeysuckle Rose, Squeeze Me, Handful of Keys, I've Got A Feeling I'm Falling, How Ya Baby, Jitterbug Waltz (a smashing dance number), Ladies Who Sing with the Band, Yacht Club Swing, When the Nylons Bloom Again, hilarious Cash for your Trash, Off-Time, ending with The Joint Is Jumpin'. Act two gets off to a foot-stomping start with individual members of the band swinging with woodwinds, bass, horns, drums and the great Pinkston on the ivories. After the opening number Spreadin' Rhythm Around, they seem to have more energy as they spread the accolades around for Lounging at the Waldorf, Your Feets Too Big, That Ain't Right, Viper's Drag ( a show stopper), Mean To Me, Keepin Out Of Mischief Now, Find Out What They Like ( a trio by the girls with advice on how to hold your man) and the sing-a-long Fat & Greasy. The quintet of Black and Blue has a double edged meaning highly appropriate to Harlem of the 1930s. The chemistry between the performers and musicians is infectious, reaching out to the audience who gave them a well deserved standing ovation.

Charles Jarrett

The Center Repertory Company in Walnut Creek is currently presenting, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, an outstanding musical review of the great African-American musicians of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, focusing on the “Jump-Jive” music of Fats Waller. Artistic Director Michael Butler has engaged the very talented Thaddeus Pinkston and Robert Barry Flemming to direct and choreograph this fun-filled up-beat evening of raucous review of “Jump-Jivin” songs and musical numbers from our early great rhythms that were the precursors of American Rock and Roll. The cast consists of five sterling African-American performers, Anika Bobb, Marcie Henderson, Anise F. Ritchie, Clinton Derricks-Carroll and Tereek Lee Holmes. Wow! The joint was really jumpin’, to put it mildly, as the audience joined in with heart-felt hand-clapping accompaniment, on several occasions. These entertainers are absolutely terrific, great voices, great dancing, and attractive entertainers who deliver a superb show! This inspired production includes such great numbers as “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “T’aint Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”, “The Jitterbug Waltz”, “Your Feet’s Too Big”, “Two Sleepy People”, but to name just a few of the memory joggin’ songs and numbers that keep everybody on an upbeat musical journey all evening long. When I was a student disc jockey on radio station KFJI in Klamath Falls, Oregon, back in the late 50’s, these were the songs that set the tone for the new Black performers of Rock and Roll that had began to deluge the airwaves at that time. Fats Domino, Little Richard, BB King, and a plethora of others soon began to take the place of the great jazz entertainers that had blazed the way on the earlier American radio airwaves.