Music lovers will get all jazzed up about 'Ain't Misbehavin'

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

March 27, 2014

WAUKESHA - “Ain’t Misbehavin” is back, this time with a little different configuration.   

In 2003, when the Skylight put on this show in the Cabot Theatre, the cast consisted of five singers and six instrumentalists. The Stackner Cabaret production uses only five vocalists, who also provide the accompaniment.  

These multitalented performers can not only sing, but they also can play the piano, drums, saxophone, trumpet, bass and violin.  Several of them are very adept at dancing, as well.  

Fats Waller (1904-43) died at the young age of 39. During his short life, he managed to write more than 450 songs, perform in night clubs, concert halls, on the radio and in movies. He thrived during the Harlem Renaissance and Prohibition and left a legacy of music performed and enjoyed by millions.  

This very capable cast provides a highly energized, musically diverse extravaganza conceived by Richard Maltby and Murray Horwitz. Two segments give us a fast-paced series of 30 songs with one intermission for us and them to catch our communal breath.  

The stage has been extended to provide for more room for dancing and to allow the upright piano to be moved into various positions to create different aesthetic constructs. The set design by Tom Gleeson and the costumes by Mary Folino both enhance the atmosphere of the Jazz Age.  

Kenney M. Green does wonders on the piano and the trumpet, Britney Coleman plays bass and the violin, and Christopher James Culberson, besides his fancy and very graceful footwork (a modern Fred Astaire), plays sax and drums. Coleman is also a very competent dancer and often joins Culberson in duets.  

When it comes to vocal expertise, all five singers are very talented, and when they sing together, especially as evidenced in their moving rendition of “Black and Blue,” the result is stunning. Green provided a very entertaining version of “Fat and Greasy” and “Your Feet’s Too Big,” when he gave his keyboard to Bethany Thomas for a stint while he strutted his comedic stuff.  

Thomas, whom we already witnessed in “Ragtime,” rendered a very moving “Mean to Me,” Coleman wowed us with her “Squeeze Me,” and Erin Willis with her belting out an angry “That Ain’t Right.”   

One of Culberson’s best numbers is “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” His face is so consistently animated that he’s fun to watch at all times.  

Other numbers that are especially memorable and familiar to most of us include “Honeysuckle Rose,” “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling,” “The Joint is Jumping,” “Two Sleepy People,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “I’m Gonna  Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.”  

Some unfamiliar tunes that are particularly enjoyable include, “Lounging at the Waldorf,” “The Viper’s Drag,” “Ain’t Nobody’s  Biz-Ness If I Do” and “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around.”  

All of their selections are engrossing, the pacing and choreography by Arthur Faria breathtaking, and the overall decided impact of the show is largely due to the excellent direction by Dan Kazemi, who has been a major director of many shows at The Rep, and who, I suspect, also found these five gems to execute this zesty show. If you enjoy good music and five talented musicians to deliver it, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is the show for you.   

“Aint Misbehavin’ runs through May 18 at the Stackner Cabaret, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit