Ain’t Misbehavin’ – by Murray Horwitz & Richard Maltby Jr. Southwark Playhouse, London SE 1. 5*****. William Russell

Music by Fats Waller Book by Murray Horwitz & Richard Maltby Jr.
5 *****
Southwark Playhouse, the Large, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD to 1 June 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 50 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 407 0234.
Review: William Russell 24 April.

Misbehavin’ in a jumping joint can be fun

It is almost a quarter of a century since this bouncy revue was last seen in London and proves an astute choice for the actor singer Tyrone Huntley’s directorial debut. Basically it is a very up market greatest hits musical devised by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby Jr – and nobody had better greatest hits for them to chose from than Fats Waller. Huntley says each song tells its own story much like they would have been performed back in the day in the jazz clubs of Harlem where music was THE way to forget life’s troubles and have a good time. No quibble with that, although Waller’s career does stretch rather beyond the twenties – the cast sport flapper dresses – and his music left Harlem for Tin Pan Alley. What we get is show biz glitz with some high octane choreography (Oti Mabuse), an impressively spangled set with a mirrored floor and a staircase (Takis), a first rate jazz band and a pianist (Alex Cockle) who can play his instrument in the Waller style plus a cast of five who seize every chance they get to razzle and dazzle. Each of them is blessed with what seems like inexhaustible energy and all of them can sing, which is not always the case in musical theatre these days. It may be clichéd at times in the show biz way, but when it is perfectly done there is nothing wrong with cliché and if it doesn’t tell you anything about Fats his songs speak for themselves.
Joyous it is, but the real joy comes from that back catalogue with – for once – all the numbers listed in the programme starting with the title song and including things like Your Feet’s Too Big, Black and Blue, Lounging at the Waldorf, The Viper’s Drag, I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, Two Sleepy People, I Can’t give You Anything but Love, Ladies Who Sing with the Band and Cash for Your Trash. And It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.
Admittedly on Press night it started a little shakily. The sound was not quite right, the words – and in Waller they matter – not coming over clearly, but whatever the problem was it got rectified and by the end all was loud and clear. Maybe the trouble was the audience being on three sides of the theatre space meant backs to two sides part of the time. But the standing ovation at the end, often so thoughtlessly given these days by an audience inevitably full of chums and those who love musicals regardless, was earned. Adrian Hansel, Renee Lamb, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Landi Osinowo and Wayne Robinson were magnificent strutting their stuff and clearly inspired by Huntley’s deft direction. If this doesn’t leave the Large for a West End house in due course there is no justice in the world.
Adrian Hansel.
Renee Lamb.
Carly Mercedes Dyer.
Landi Oshinowo.
Wayne Robinson.

Director: Tyrone Huntley.
Choreographer: Oti Mabuse.
Designer: takis.
Lighting Designer: James Whiteside.
Sound Designer: DanSamson.
Orchestrator: Mark Dickman.
Performance Music Director: Alex Cockle.
Rehearsal Music Director: Steven Edis.
The band: Elias Jordan Atkinson; Blake Cascoe; Mebrakh Haighton-Johnson; Ruben Ramos Medina.
Production photographs: Pamela Raith.

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