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BWW Review: AIN'T MISBEHAVIN': THE FATS WALLER MUSICAL is a Swinging Good Time at Syracuse Stage

The cast of Ain't Misbehavin: The Fats Waller Musical at Syracuse Stage. Photo by Mike Davis.

Syracuse Stage has almost turned into a 1940s jazz night club with Ain't Misbehavin,' a musical revue, named after the song of the same name by Fats Waller. The show features a book by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horowitz and musical adaptations and orchestrations by Luther Henderson. Directed and choreographed by Patdro Harris, the production easily transports the audience back to the Harlem Renaissance with its crazy good singers, skilled musicians, and, of course, swing dancing. It captures the mood of the era.

The entertaining musical is a tribute to the creativity and ethnic pride of the black musicians of the 1920s and 1930s. An ensemble cast of five sings the swinging tunes that capture Fat Waller's view of life - a life that is full of pleasure and amusement.

Conductor and pianist Philip Hall and five other musicians bang out the swing music onstage while the actors smoothly and energetically sing out the seductive, rowdy, and often humorous songs. Each song captures the various types of people who may have been lurking or singing in a jazz club so the actors are tasked to embody specific character types for each song. This requires a strong cast and there certainly is one at Syracuse Stage. The actors are what make this production phenomenal. They stand out as individuals, but their chemistry with one another also makes an impression, especially on the comedic numbers.

Anthony Boggess-Glover is full of charm, confidence, and comedic ability. His strong baritone voice stands out on each number. He is charming in his duet with Jennifer Fouché in "Honeysuckle Rose." Boggess-Glover's chemistry with Stephen Scott Wormley on "Ladies Who Sing With the Band" also makes that number a highlight. They give a top-notch performance of "Fat and Greasy" too. It shows off their comedic abilities and was definitely an audience favorite on opening night. However, the humorous "Your Feet's Too Big" brings about his best moment.

Jennifer Fouché's smooth voice steals the spotlight throughout the show. Her stage presence is pure magic and she lights up the stage with her glamorous and seductive vocals in many numbers. Her rendition of "Mean to Me" is full of passion and one of the best numbers in the production.

Danielle Herbert's spunk, attitude, and facial expressions are also a highlight. Her tremendous dance moves and comedic abilities are noticeable in many numbers, especially "Yacht Club Swing." Her chemistry with Stephen Scott Wormley in "How Ya Baby" makes it highly memorable.

Lexi Rhoades' solo number "Squeeze Me" - performed under a single spotlight - oozes with seduction, passion. Her confidence and charm is captivating in "That Ain't Right" (with Stephen Scott Wormley) and "Find Out What They Like" (with Jennifer Fouché). Her powerful voice is a wonderful asset to many of the numbers.

Stephen Scott Wormley's is a scene stealer thanks to his comedic chops. His facial expressions are hilarious, which make many of the already humorous songs all the funnier. It is hard to not watch his skillful expressions during the full company numbers. He also has great chemistry with the other actors - no matter the song - and a knack for movement. Wormley's standout solo number, "The Viper's Drag/The Reefer Song," is pure entertainment and the love he received the from the audience on opening night was definitely warranted.

While each of the actors have individual moments to shine, other memorable moments occur when they come together. Hilarious moments, beautiful moments, emotional moments - they're all there. They include "Ain't Misbehavin'/Lookin' Good But Feelin' Bad/ T Ain't Nobody's Biz-nez if I Do," "The Joint is Jumpin'," "Jitterbug Waltz," and the beautiful number "Black and Blue," arranged by Chika Kaba Ma'atunde.

While the strong cast transforms Syracuse Stage into a swingin' good time jazz club with their performances, the artistic elements help the transformation even further. The gorgeous and intricate costumes by Greg Horton - both the dresses and the suits -emphasize the seduction and glamour of the era. Jennifer Setlow's lighting enhances the mood and James V. Thomas' set gives off that cozy and intimate feel suitable for a jazz club in 1940s Harlem.

The joint is definitely jumpin' at Syracuse Stage. Ain't Misbehavin' is a non-stop good time and a definite must-see!

Running Time: Approximately two hours with one twenty-minute intermission.

Guidance: Some drug references and sexual innuendo.

Ain't Misbehavin': The Fats Waller Musical Show runs through March 26, 2017 at Syracuse Stage, 820 E. Genesee Street, Syracuse, NY 13210. For tickets and information on Syracuse Stage click here or call the box office at 315-443-3275.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley