Spinning Tree Productions Goes for Another Win with AIN'T MISBEHAVIN'
"It's a celebration of a time, you know what I mean? The Harlem Renaissance, the growth of the cultured black person, of the educated, the musically inclined, you know, the well-to-do." This is how actress and singer Eboni Fondren describes AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', the latest offering from Kansas City's Spinning Tree Theatre.
Spinning Tree, headed by Andy Parkhurst and Michael Grayman- performers and partners turned choreographer and director, respectively- is a relative newcomer to Kansas City audiences. In only three seasons, though, it has proved remarkably adept in selecting repertoire, and in the quality of its productions, putting out a superb rendering of the Michael John LaChiusa work HELLO AGAIN last season.
AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', this year's premiere production is one not seen on Kansas City stages since the late 90s. Parkhurst, here co-directing with Grayman, describes his early memories of the show: "It's just always been one of my favorite shows, I've always loved it since I was a little kid. I got the duel cassette set from my parents at Christmas when I was probably nine, I memorized every word and loved it. I was totally obsessed with it."
It's a good show to get hooked on, chalked full of musical songbook gems from the 20s and 30s, including the standouts "The Joint is Jumpin'", "Black and Blue" and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" among others. Fats Waller, composer of the title song, is, of course, most closely associated with the show; but work from Nat King Cole, Hoagy Charmichael, Dorothy Fields and Frank Loesser are also prominent.
Eboni Fondren, who plays, roughly, the role originated on Broadway by Nell Carter, gave her take on performing the role: "You find meaning in the lyric...for example, "Black and Blue", that song is a very deep song, and, you know, we take it and personalize it for how that song would affect me today. And the words that I sing, "cold, empty bed" and "why was I born?"...we take that song on how it feels to me, on what those lyrics mean to me.
Michael Grayman, talked about the show's cast, which incudes Ron Lackey, Jennie Greenberry, Linnaia McKenzie and Matthew King: "[W]hat we're doing is were taking the talent that we have with this and letting them make it their own. I also say this is a more youthful cast. I would imagine most people casting 'Ain't Misbehavin' I think usually it's a little bit, slightly older... And so we wanted to keep this a little more youthful, but at the same time everybody can bring their personality...Each song is a story, is its own journey, and we make sure that everyone has their own point of view with their own story."
Another important aspect of Spinning Tree show is their commitment to local casting. "There are many theater companies that would go 'Oh, we gotta go here, we gotta go there (to cast)'," Parkhurst said. "We've got it all here-we could have cast this show three times. We're thrilled with who we have, they're all excellent."
AINT'T MISBEHAVIN' plays Nov. 1-17 at the Just Off Broadway Theatre in Kansas City. For tickets and more information visit brownpapertickets.com.