The joint will be jumpin' when International City Theatre closes its 2012 season with Ain't Misbehavin', the Tony Award-winning musical revue based on the life of Thomas "Fats" Waller. Saundra McClain directs Phillip Brandon (national tour: The Color Purple), Niketa Calame (Celebration Theatre's The Color Purple), Amber Mercomes (San Francisco and Los Angeles Opera productions of Porgy and Bess), Lacy Darryl Phillips (Broadway: Fosse and A Raisin in the Sun) and Jennifer Shelton (first national tour of Ragtime; previously seen on the ICT stage in Songs for a New World, Five Course Love, The Story, Honk! and Swinging on a Star), with musical direction by Rahn Coleman and choreography by Stephen Semien. Performances take place October 12 through November 4 at International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, with low-priced previews beginning October 9.
Step back to the Golden Age of Jazz, when places like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were havens for snappy swing music and snazzy jazz, and the stride piano infused the soulful energy of a generation. Taking its title from the 1929 Waller song, Ain't Misbehavin' is a lively tribute to the black musicians of the Harlem Renaissance, featuring 30 finger-snapping, toe-tapping numbers including "Honeysuckle Rose," "Squeeze Me," "Handful of Keys," "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" and "The Joint is Jumpin'."
"I want the audience to not only finger-snap and toe-tap along-but to be transported back in time, before hip-hop, through the bebop era and into the Harlem Renaissance, which was one of the most astonishing explosions of theatrical creativity in modern American history," says McClain. "I hope those who have seen other productions will be pleasantly surprised by our fresh approach and by the energy and passion of this version. I see Ain't Misbehavin' as a timeless classic, not a museum piece, and I want to make it not only entertaining, but innovative and relevant for today's audience."
Conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, Ain't Misbehavin' premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1978 to critical and popular acclaim. It soon transferred to Broadway where it ran for four years, garnering three Tony and three Drama Desk Awards and launching the careers of original cast members Nell Carter, André DeShields, Armelia McQueen, Ken Page and Charlayne Woodard. The show found its inspiration when Murray Horwitz invited Richard Maltby, Jr., to his apartment to listen to some rare Fats Waller recordings. According to Maltby, it was the wit in the piano that convinced him that Waller's musical repertoire and personality could live on stage.
Set design for the ICT production of Ain't Misbehavin' is by John Iacovelli; lighting design is by Ben Pilat; sound design is by Paul Fabre; costume design is by Kim DeShazo; props are by Patty Briles; hair and wig design is by Anthony Gagliardi; casting is by Michael Donovan; production stage manager is Pat Loeb; and caryn desai [sic] produces.
Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904-1943) was born in New York City, the youngest of four children and the son of a reverend. By age six he began playing the piano and by the age of fourteen performed on the organ at Harlem's Lincoln Theater. By 18, two of his piano solos were recorded. In 1918 he won a talent contest playing Johnson's "Carolina Shout," a song he learned by watching another pianist and performing solely by memory. Waller was one of the most popular performers of his era, finding critical and commercial success in his homeland and in Europe. He was also a prolific songwriter and composed many novelty swing tunes in the 1920s and '30s, but sold them for relatively small sums. When the compositions became hits, other songwriters claimed them as their own. Alternatively, many standards that he performed are sometimes controversially attributed to Waller. He died of pneumonia on a cross country train trip in Kansas City, MO on his way to Hollywood having made what would be his final recording in Detroit.