Ain't Misbehavin' | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Ain't Misbehavin' 

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AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', Drury Lane Theatre Evergreen Park. Marc Robin's revival of the "new Fats Waller musical show," first produced in 1978, joyously rediscovers the fun and poignancy of this perfectly packaged Tony-winning tribute. Evoking a USO show, Harlem nightclub, stride-piano recital, and even the racial reverse of slumming, Ain't Misbehavin' gets the joint jumping.

The five-person ensemble, dolled and duded up by Jeff Hendry with period precision, tear into their roles. Oozing double entendres in the Fats Waller part, John Steven Crowley zestfully reinvents such staples as "Honeysuckle Rose," "Your Feet's Too Big," and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." In clever contrast is Parrish Collier in the gigolo role, slinking through his silky-smooth hymn to pot, "The Viper's Drag." The women can do no wrong. Diva extraordinaire Felicia P. Fields can bring down the Sears Tower, let alone a house: she slam-dunks "Find Out What They Like" and builds "Mean to Me" into a lament that crosses the decades to hit the heart. A demure belter, comedian Cynthia Cobb is contagious as a coquette who coos her way through "Squeeze Me." Squealing with irrepressible youth, Jenna Ford-Jackson uncovers all the contradictions in "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now." When all five dig into the haunting harmonies of "Black and Blue," the show sobers up, offering a foretaste of Selma and Simi Valley.

Now if Robin can only rein in the cast's slick ad-libs, Ain't Misbehavin' will be good as gold.

--Lawrence Bommer

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