Southwark Playhouse, London – until 1 June 2019
Fats Waller was so inventive that he got a nightclub jumpin’ whether he was singing about stockings and big feet or bigotry and hatred. That prodigious talent has rubbed off on first time director Tyrone Huntley and choreographer, Oti Mabuse, who have created a sizzling revival of Ain’t Misbehavin’ which is electrifying audiences at London’s Southwark Playhouse.
Huntley has already excelled as an actor with an award-winning turn in a recent revival of Jesus Christ Superstar and bagging places in listings as a hot new talent and major influencer. Already one to watch on stage, he now proves to be a wunderkind directing others.
Meanwhile Mabuse, no stranger to dance, has never choreographed a musical, yet doesn’t put a foot wrong, coming up with a scintillating and assured show. Ain’t Misbehavin’ sizzles with 30 high energy songs from an extensive back catalogue that thrilled punters during the inter-war years in the jazz and swing clubs of New York.
But what it isn’t, as publicised, is a musical. This revue barrels along with toe-tapping tunes and exuberant turns from its cast of five (plus five-piece band) but there’s nearly no dialogue save a couple of song intros, and no plot or story in any shape or form.
The production, should it transfer, and it deserves a life after Colchester’s Mercury Theatre and the Playhouse, would be a perfect fit in somewhere like London’s Crazy Coqs, a nightclub setting where audiences would sit, as they used to in Harlem’s Cotton Club, at tables to enjoy the show.
Adrian Hansel and Wayne Robinson, looking sharp in oversized suits and fedoras, take on the majority of the dance routines, their athleticism and Mabuse’s vibrant choreography kept in check by the small performance space
Carly Mercedes Dyer, Landi Oshinowo and Renee Lamb, looking uber glamorous in vintage cocktail dresses, play the divas and torch singers. Dyer is kinda cheeky with the other two frequently bickering over a man.
Together they bring the house alive with Waller’s distinctive jazz, stride, ragtime and swing tunes.
Some are instantly recognisable such as the title song, Honeysuckle Rose and I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.
But other novelty songs have been lost to the passage of time. How many performers today would get away with singing about recycling, obesity and big feet or be as inventive as to write the songs in the first place?
When did you last hear ‘zat,zat zoozy’ being sung as a meaningful lyric?
Takis’s dazzling stage design is a perfect fit. The burnished copper floor and glitzy staircase sets the scene for a spectacular musical revue which not only showcases one of the most original talents of the 1920s but also the up-and-coming talent of a century later.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs in The Large at Southwark Playhouse until June 1.
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