- Terelle Jerricks
By Melina Paris Music Writer and Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
It’s amazing that the Ain’t Misbehavin’ musical revue was only resurrected after playwright and director Murray Horwitz invited his friend theater director and producer Richard Maltby Jr.to listen to an old Fats Waller record he discovered.
When the revue was staged in 1978, the Harlem Renaissance had largely faded from the public’s consciousness.
Within its first four weeks, this musical revue won almost every award a musical can win in a Broadway season. Ain’t Misbehavin’ garnered Best Musical from the Tony Awards, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, the Outer Critics Circle Awards and the Drama Desk Awards. It even snagged three Tony Awards.
In the Broadway production the actor’s real names were used for their character names, which included:Nell Carter, André DeShields, Armelia McQueen, Ken Page, and Charlayne Woodard are used. In a nod back to the original production, director Saundra McClain has done the same for the current International City Theater production that runs until Nov. 4.
In this production, San Pedro resident Amber Mercomes reprises the role played by Armelia McQueen. Mercomes notes that no one has seen Ain’t Misbehavin quite like this current production.
“I really appreciate the stories our director Saundra McClain has interwoven in this production,” Mercomes said. “It’s genius.”
Originally the show was just a revue where the singers come out sing their number. There is little story to it, one song would lead right into another. In this production, McClain woven in character development where there wasn’t.
“I have a relationship with a male character that comes back later in the story,” Mercome explained. It’s amazing that she could create that with just blocking and staging alone.”
Mercomes’ preparation included studying the original Broadway production of the revue as well as many of the following productions the in later years. Mercomes was initially invited to audition for Nell Carter’s role, but was happy that she got to play Armelia’s role instead.
“I came into this role excited to be able to sing so many styles; classical, blues, jazz,” she said. “I relate especially to Armelia because of the range of her voice. She sings across the board, every aspect of her voice shows.
“I always look to the original cast, both Nell Carter and Armelia McQueen were women of size but there was no stopping them. They were sexy and bold and took ownership of and had pride in their looks. They were both hard working and had unmatched voices.”
With family roots dug deep in the soil of Kansas, Mercomes family is steeped in music. Her grandparents were both musicians in Kansas City jazz scene in the 1940s and 50s. Her grandfather played the sax, upright bass and cello and her grandmother a vocalist whose range extended from Blues and Jazz to opera.
In terms of opera, Mercomes looks to Leontyne Price, Maria Calas and her favorite Montserrat Caballé. For Jazz, she looks to Nina Simone, though Mercomes acknowledges that Simone’s versatility makes it impossible to put her any one category.
Mercomes counts a number of family who’ve made or are making a career in the entertainment industry including a cousin who is studying musical theater at New York University and a television director uncle, Guerren Keith, who directed Diff’rent Strokes and 227, as other members of her family in the entertainment industry.
“My mother is a teacher and also a costume designer, she designed and made costumes for all of our shows,” Mercomes explained. “She sings well too, that gene is definitely running through our family. I think that helps my family support what I do.”
Mercomes, an accomplished operatic soprano, studied music at Pepperdine University and has performed in various musicals and operas including the role of the old woman in Long Beach Opera’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, Lily in San Francisco and the Los Angeles Opera’s productions of Porgy and Bess.
She has been dancing for more than 20 years. When she’s not jetting off to stage performance across the country and beyond, Mercomes is performing in Disneyland’s Aladdin: A musical Spectacular. She also made her film debut singing, Pie Jesu for the documentary, For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots.
With more than 30 songs in the original production, McClain’s rendition of the revue will not skimp on the music. Though all of the performs will be performing in nearly all of the musical scores, Mercomes songs include Squeeze Me, When the Nylons Bloom Again, Find Out What They Like, Jitterbug Waltz and That Ain’t Right.
“There’s dancing throughout the show but my main numbers are “Ain’t Misbehavin” in the opening, “Jitterbug Waltz,” “This Joint is Jumpin” and “Off-Time,” Mercomes said.
Details: (562) 436-4610; www.ictlongbeach.org
Venue: International City Theatre
Location: 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach