Monday, November 9, 2015

Ain’t Misbehavin’—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

The Art of Feelin’ Good

This musical based on the life and times of Fats Waller is conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director), choreography by Kent Zimmerman and musical direction by Rick Lewis.  It is playing at their space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through November 29th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

Since this musical is 99% song and dance only, I will attempt to give a flavor of it by just using mostly their song titles.  I got my fingers crossed but looks like this show is spreadin’ rhythm around.  It’s a sin to tell a lie but, in the audience, if you find out what they like then they be keepin’ out of mischief now and  the joint is jumpin.  Okay, that’s a stretch, but if you find a different language to communicate with others, you are bound to give it a try and that ain’t misbehavin.

This does have aspects of opera, as there is essentially no spoken dialogue, but the music is pure Waller and his era.  He was purported to be in league with the devil because his music was so revolutionary for the time (as was another musician, Robert Johnson, who is rumored to have made a pact with the devil, his soul for the art of writing music.  Strangely, no verified photos of Johnson exist).  Instead of romanticizing those years (early 20th century), Waller choose to reflect them in the music and songs of the times.  They were troubled days, especially for minorities, and these songs reflect that.

What you will see mirrored on the stage is a journey of love found and lost (Honeysuckle Rose, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and Mean To Me, et. al.; dreams of an elusive Eden, Black And Blue; degradation and despair, Lounging At the Waldorf and The Viper’s Drag, et. al.; and, ultimately, shouts of joyous celebration of life and lovin’ and livin,’ Spreadin’ Rhythm Around and The Joint is Jumpin,’ as well as the title song.   Some of my favorites were Handful of Keys (Demone, David St. Louis, André Ward, David Jennings, Mia Michelle McClain, and Maiesha McQueen); Cash For Your Trash (Olivia Phillip and McQueen); and Black And Blue (DeMone, St. Louis, Ward, Jennings, Charity Angél Dawson, Phillip, McClain, and McQueen).  Also adding powerful vocal support was the youngest, Hailey Kilgore.

It is an ensemble cast and these are some of the best voices I’ve heard in a musical!  All of them are very strong and have a tremendous range.  Coleman has chosen his cast well and an added necessary talent for him is managing the intricate but very smooth revolving set changes that add immensely to the success of the show.  Tony Cisek is a major asset as the scenic designer and his set not only is amazing to view but the revolve works very succinctly from the audience’s perspective (but I’m sure it was more organized chaos behind the scenes).  The music added greatly to the production (Lewis), never overpowering the actors and Zimmerman’s dances fit perfectly the moods of the pieces.

I recommend this show, as it is not only a treat for the eyes and ears, but adds honesty to the story of important time in our history.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.