As far as musical reviews go, the gold standard was set when Ain't Misbehavin' opened in the Spring of 1978 on Broadway, running for over 1,600 performances. The show is a tribute to the heyday of Harlem's Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom, where jazz, swing and dance emerged in a whole new and electric way. The review which features music by Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller and a book by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, is a symphony to the ears with such standards as the title song, ‘The Jitterbug Waltz', ‘Honeysuckle Rose' and ‘Mean to Me'.
Gold has now turned to Platinum with the Goodman's triumphant production currently playing in the Albert. With sensual and vibrant direction by Chuck Smith, Ain't Misbehavin' is transporting a whole new audience to Harlem with fantastic results. The five member cast, anchored by E. Faye Butler and John Steven Crowley and features Parrish Collier, Alexis Rogers and Lina Keranan effortlessly envelops the audience into their world in an instant.
Backed by some of the finest musicians in Chicago, each number of the review is a story in itself, allowing the soloists to not only show off their vocal chops, but also, their fine acting skills. Then there is the dancing, which makes each of these performers a triple threat.
The woman seem to dominate the first act with Ms. Keranan's sultry ‘Squeeze Me', Ms. Rogers, ‘Yacht Club Swing' , Ms. Butler's ‘Cash For Your Trash' and the female trio's ‘When The Nylons Bloom Again'. With each having their own definite character, the stories of each vignette are clearly told, giving the show more of a musical book then just a review of songs.
The second act give the boys a chance to shine and they don't disappoint with Mr. Collier's show stopping, ‘The Viper's Drag' and Mr. Crowley's effortless ‘Your Feet's Too Big' are both standing ovation worthy.
With all five building to the finale, using the classic ‘Black And Blue', the momentum of the evening was palpable. And the finale did just what it was designed to do, bring the audience to their feet, with such standards as ‘I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter', ‘Two Sleepy People' and ‘I Can't Give You Anything But Love'. By the end of the night, you wish you were born in a different era where this music and culture could be absorbed into your soul.
There was one glaring and nagging problem throughout the entire production. The cast's microphones where so unbalanced that there were many occasions that the sound of the band overwhelmed the vocals, and even when the soloists were singing, the voices were muffled to the point of not being understood. Hopefully this sound issue is resolved quickly as the actors are giving 110 percent and deserve to have each and every word uttered understood.
In a summer filled with phenomenal theatre in Chicago, Ain't Misbehavin' certainly moves itself to the top of any must see list.
Ain't Misbehavin' has been extended through August 3, 2008 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, Illinois. For tickets and show times, please visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org or call the box office at (312) 443-3800.