- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell
“It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.”
That’s a lyric from “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” the musical tribute to Fats Waller and his style of jazz, which concludes International City Theatre’s 2012 season with lots of bright and memorable music at the Center Theatre in Long Beach through Nov. 4.
You’ve got to love it: the musical is filled with songs by Waller and others (jazz was a very collaborative form in the 1920’s and 30’s) and every one is a hit, many so well-known (like the title song) that you’ll be humming when you walk out of the theater.
But it is also a bit of a lie. Waller’s life was filled with hundreds of songs, Indeed he was one of the top recording artists of his time. But his life wasn’t all roses: he had several bad marriages and died on pneumonia on a train to Los Angeles. More importantly many black artists of his time found his comic persona offensive to black musicians and disparaged him.
“Ain’t Misbehavin'” doesn’t talk about that, and despite Musical Director Rahn Coleman, who leads the musical from an on-stage piano, you might not know how piano-driven Waller’s music was. Radio broadcasts in the ghost-filled theater where the performance takes place (the review has a very slight plot and a magnificently designed theater setting by John Iacovelli) don’t tell much, either.
You’ll have to Google Waller to find out his story: “Ain’t Misbehavin'” is about his exciting music, as refined through an on-stage orchestra (all white, incidentally) and six performers who sing and dance up a storm. Fats deserves more recognition from the Jazz elite, but at least here he is getting performed with relish, and he’d love that. The cast: Phillip Brandon, Niketa Calame, Amber Mercomes, Lacy Darryl Phillips, Jennifer Shelton and Dedrick Bonner, bring his lively music to life, dancing and singing and reminding us of an era when music was still more tuneful than rhythm driven, despite the “Fat’s Waller’s Rhythm” name he gave to his musicians.
Especially notable was Lacy Darryl Phillips in “The Viper’s Drag,” dancing and singing and even offering audience members hits off his “funny” cigarette. The whole cast had plenty of energy, and the songs, “When the Nylons Bloom Again,” “Your Feet’s Too Big,” “Two Sleepy People,” revealed a time when things were simpler, and at least seemed a lot more fun.
Coleman, with his back to the audience, wasn’t Waller at the piano. He was playing with driving force, and, sometimes, you recognized Waller’s style, but this review is more about words than music. Still, it is great fun and a chance to reintroduce yourself to one of America’s great musicians.
Tickets are $37-$44. Performances are Thursday, October 18 at 8 p.m., Friday, October 19 at 8 p.m., Saturday, October 20 at 8 p.m., Sunday, October 21 at 2 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through November 4.
Details: (562) 436-4610, www.ictlongbeach.org
Venue: International City Theatre
Location: 3oo East Ocean Blvd., Long Beach