I recall Ain't Misbehavin' from its first West End outing in 1979 when it was nominated for Musical of the year and it is now revived for a residency at the Southwark Playhouse until 1st of June. It is a celebration of the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller and in many ways is a fore runner of the many musical tribute shows that now fill the West End and regional stages.
Musically it is excellent with a wonderful five piece jazz band recreating the sound of the Fats Waller and his Rhythm band under the musical supervision of Alex Cockle on piano and with delightful occasional trumpet and clarinet solos from Elias Jordan Atkinson and Mebrakh Haughton-Johnson respectively. In all they play some thirty tunes over the two hours running time each with an energy and sense of enjoyment which is infectious.
The set designed by takis evokes the New York Harlem jazz clubs of the 1920's and 1930's with a golden dance floor and raised steps on which the band sit. It is a nice addition when the dais on which the piano sits slides on a track across the dance floor to take centre stage.
Sadly we learn nothing about Fats Waller , the context of the time or his life or inspiration for his music but we are invited to sit back, tap our feet, and clap hands as the five singer dancers perform the songs. As the programme notes the music was THE way to forget life's troubles and have a good time and that is all this show sets out to deliver.
They are a talented bunch with good voices and energetic whole hearted execution. Choreography by Strictly's Oti Mabuse and the debutant director Tyrone Huntley, make good use of the space and lighting by James Whiteside seamlessly make sure they are well lit wherever they move to on the dance floor or amongst the audience. Occasionally we lose the words when there backs are turned towards us but overall the sound is big, bold and enjoyable.
The girls, Renee Lamb, Carly Mercedes Dyer and Landi Oshinowo seem to feature the most and develop stage personas which show the rivalries, tensions and loves that the songs tell but there is good support from the boys, Adrian Hansel and Wayne Robinson who move with a slick flowing ease. They know how to play it for laughs when they need to as in "When the nylons bloom again", "Your feet's too big " and "Fat and Greasy".
My personal favourites were
Squeeze me, a delightful solo from Landi
Handful of keys, from Carly accompanied by the piano
Yacht club swing, from Carly at her frantic comic best
VIpers Drag, a seductive steamy routine "dreaming of a reefer five foot long"!
Overall this is a lively fun game evening of excellent Jazz song and dance which has the audience eating out of their hands and leaves you smiling and wanting to know more about the life and music of Fats Waller.
Review by Nick Wayne
Seat: Stalls row C | Price of ticket: £27
Ain't Misbehavin, southwark playhouse