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BWW Reviews: Jivin' Jazz Plays Red Hot at the Stackner Cabaret


Jivin' Jazz---What else does an audience need to raise the roof of Milwaukee Rep's Stackner Cabaret in their red hot revue opening this March: Ain't Misbehavin': The Fats Waller Musical Show. Sultry and red-hot aptly describes the entertainment these five multi-talented dancers/musicians/singers energize the cabaret with for two hours, literally keepin' the audience jumpin' for the entire evening.

The iconic Jazz Hall of Famer Thomas "Fats" Waller was credited with more than 400 melodies. Including songs written in collaboration with other composers or lyricists, incorporating genres that range from jazz, blues, spirituals and ragtime, while also contributing to the stride style of playing piano. In this revue originally conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, the audience will silently lip sync many of these memorable songs, such as "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "Honeysuckle Rose," The Joint is Jumpin' and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love."

Five stellar performers can't help but give the audience a cabaret night to remember under Dan Kazemi's Stackner directorial debut. Britney Coleman, Christopher James Culberson, Kenney M. Green, Bethany Thomas and Erin Willis sizzle on stage. Thomas and Willis sparkle in Mary Folino's costumes edged in rhinestones that glimmer in the lights, especially when they shake, shimmy and sing in "Find Out What They Like." Coleman steals several scenes with solos in a golden satin dress edged in fringe, especially alongside Culberson in the lively "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie."

While Green's passion reflects the pianist Waller with exceptional "tinklin'"on the ivories, each performer effortlessly moves musical instruments, scenery and then plays several instruments---banjo, bass, fiddle, saxophone, trumpet and plenty of percussion by any one of these five exceptional performers, who also dance. In this incredible production recalling the timeless appeal of jazz, watch Coleman mesmerize the audience in "Squeeze Me," where she seductively plays with a feather boa while Thomas then follows by echoing the lyrics from the corner of the cabaret. Thomas' voice reaches to the inners of the human soul, and the soul of Waller's music.

In one number, a cheeky little song recorded by Waller "Your Feet's Too Big," Green strolls through the cabaret crowd and invites certain patrons to share a shot with him that playfully tease each one with comic results. Or the audience can clamor the chorus with the performers in the number "Fat and Greasy."

An exceptionally haunting melody precedes the finale when "Black and Blue" sung accapella by the performers rivets the revue to poignant meaning. To be black skinned imparted an extremely difficult life to live during the first 150 years of America, while the creation of their uniquely American jazz and blues opened the door for the Harlem Renaissance. An extremely rich period in time, the 1920's-1940's, when African Americans could finally express themselves freely through music and literature, in way akin to their culture, eventually for the country and world to applaud.

Could The Rep give an audience any more love for this music, these performers and Waller than in this production? Absolutely not! And if one needs romantic inspiration or merely a few moments to jive and jump, to set the mood for the renaissance Spring brings to Milwaukee, the Stackner Cabaret is the place to be. Nothin' else will make this production come alive for an audience like these gifted performers, the five jivin' jazz with the irresistible, indomitable spirit shakin' at Ain't Misbehavin'.

The Milwaukee Rep presents Ain't Misbehavin' at the Stackner Cabaret in the Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex through May 18. For information, schedules or tickets, please call 414.224.9490 or

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