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Ain’t Misbehavin’
The Fats Waller Musical Show

M. Martine Allard, Ron Lucas, Anita Welch, Tony Perry, Amy Jo Phillips 

                                                                                     photo by Pia Hasa

Ain’t Misbehavin’

The Fats Waller Musical Show

                                      by Julia Polinsky


Ain’t Misbehavin’: say those words, and Fats Waller’s oversize personality and terrific songs leap to mind. The African-American stride pianist, hamming it up in his derby hat, googly eyes and gap-toothed grin, was among the most popular musicians of the Jazz Age.


Waller’s performing, writing, and recording career spanned the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Some of his more famous songs are included in this revue: “Honeysuckle Rose;” “The Joint is Jumpin’;” “Squeeze Me;” “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now;” “Black and Blue;” and, of course, the title song. But there are also lesser known gems, like “Off Time,” with its terrific syncopations, or “When The Nylons Bloom Again,” a wartime love song to hosiery.


The Westchester Broadway Theatre’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ was directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., who conceived the show back in ’78, and won multiple awards for it. It ran for over 1600 performances on Broadway, spawned a London run, was hugely successful.  (Maltby wrote lyrics for four of the songs in the show, as well as conceiving and directing it).  Working with associate director A. Curtis Farrow, they’ve put together a well-meaning but somewhat less than wonderful homage to the original. That’s a pity, but almost inherent in the material itself.


Face it: how do you make these songs, in all their exuberant, but sometimes off-color, life, safe for suburban dinner theater? With a first-class cast, you can manage it. You need singers who are having fun. You need people who “get” this music, and want to share it more than anything. Most of all, you need a cast that isn’t mugging, in spite of the painful level of cliché behavior called for by the material; these songs came from an earlier age, and some let it all hang out in ways that were titillating in the day, but now, some people find unacceptable. That level of commitment happens from time to time in the WBT production, but not often enough.


Kudos to Maltby and Farrow for not sanitizing the show to make it PC. Those lyrics are what they are – if you don’t get the innuendo in “Squeeze Me,” you’re not paying attention; same with bits of “Honeysuckle Rose, all of “Find Out What They Like.” Nowadays, it takes some courage to perform “The Viper’s Drag/The Reefer Song.” Sooner or later – as Waller would say, one never knows, do one? -- someone will take offense at “Fat and Greasy,” or even “Your Feet’s Too Big,” so credit where credit is due, and congrats to Maltby and Farrow for not cutting them.


Ron Lucas and Martine Allard in Ain’t  Misbehavin’

                         Photo courtesy of Irving Street Rep


But that’s about the only congrats on offer. Several of the cast members (M. Martine Allard, Ron Lucas, Tony Perry, Amy Jo Phillips, and Anita Welch) sang mush-mouthed; if you can’t understand the lyrics of these songs, they lose impact. The singers often had a hard time hitting some notes – even those with operatic training. Problems with the sound system didn’t help, but thankfully, the production people worked them out by the second act, they should stay fixed. Keith Nielsen’s costumes seem to have been designed to make his ladies look as bad as possible. There’s no choreography to speak of, which is hardly a surprise, as the cast mostly can’t (or doesn’t) move well.


No matter. The songs are the thing, here, to catch your attention. The band, under the direction of conductor/pianist William Foster McDaniel, gets a real chance to shine – they’re even on stage, unlike so many Westchester Broadway Theatre productions. Once the technical sound problems were worked out, the show shone more brightly, but it still needs polish.


Ain’t Misbehavin: The Fats Waller Musical Show

Through February 24

Westchester Broadway Theatre. One Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, NY 10523

Weekday Matinees: 1pm

Evening Performances (except Sun): 8pm
Saturday/Sunday Matinees: 1:25pm
Sunday Evenings: 7pm.

Dinner & Show: $59.00 to $89.00

Box Office: 914-592-2222

Online tickets: