BWW Review: AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', Southwark Playhouse
So many songs are so familiar - not, perhaps, because you've heard them in full before (though, back in the day, I definitely enjoyed George Melly at Ronnie Scott's, arching an eyebrow with the double entendres embedded in a few of the numbers) - but because Fats Waller's music is woven into contemporary culture. It's not hard to see (or, rather, to hear) why.
The show itself, Ain't Misbehavin', is 40 years old, but that hardly matters as its format is a celebration of a man who died over 70 years ago. There's no narrative as such, just plenty of dancin' and bantzin' from the boys and the girls, and hook after hook after hook from the band. Actor Tyrone Huntley, debuting as a director and Strictly Come Dancing's Oti Mabuse, also debuting as a choreographer, keep the joint jumpin' all right.
There are some standards, of course. The title song perfectly captures the mischief of many of the numbers - after all, only people who are misbehaving have to say that they're not. There's "The Joint Is Jumpin'" (Fats seemed to abhor suffixes as much as John and Paul did 50 years later), a sultry "Honeysuckle Rose" and a raucous "Your Feet's Too Big" (Melly did that one for sure, and he wasn't singing about feet!).
But if Fats's lifestyle always meant that he was here for a good time, not a long time (his songs captured that attitude too), he was not blind to the racism of early 20th century America. "Black and Blue" was his "Strange Fruit", and its power is undiminished by the passage of time.
The two boys (Adrian Hansel and Wayne Robinson) rock suspenders (well, braces over here) and pair of correspondent shoes well and the girls (Renée Lamb, Carly Mercedes Dyer and Landi Oshinowo) shimmer as they shimmy and stomp in silky shifts, designed by takis. They all sing well too - especially in the second half, after what felt like a few technical adjustments during the interval. The band can belt out a tune too!
Ultimately, you succumb to the wit of songs as fresh today as when they were written nearly 100 years ago. And performances that take you back to clubs and speakeasies of Harlem and beyond.
Photo Pamela Raith.