This review will be relatively short.
It’s exceptionally rare that I wish I could express my thoughts about a play in just a few sentences, but that is the case with First Presbyterian Theater’s Ain’t Misbehavin’.
A two-word review would be: “See this!”
It’s good and more fun than anything I can recall seeing on a Fort Wayne stage in a long while. Truly.
Usually, I would provide a quick plot summary. For this, there really is no plot, as the show serves as a revue of songs associated with 1920s and 30s entertainer Fats Waller who was a part of the Harlem Renaissance. Most songs are given context by adding dramatic or comedic elements by the performers.
The cast consists of five very strong actor/singers who can and do belt out a variety of songs brilliantly. Mikki White, who has appeared in several FPT productions, is a delight to watch as always. Fatima Washington is a strong talent both in voice and expression. Albert T. Brownlee and Stefan Phillips were chosen perfectly and work together well in some of the production’s funniest songs. Choreographer Latissha Williams has less stage time than the others, but she shines in each of her numbers.
Many of the songs included here are classics and were performed by other famous singers such as Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and Louis Armstrong. These include “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” “Mean to Me” and, of course, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
Two of the funniest songs were new to me and hysterically funny. I am not sure when I laughed as hard as I did when Brownlee sang “Your Feet’s Too Big” or when he and Phillips did “Fat and Greasy.” The price of a ticket would be justified if only to see these two numbers.
The only slightly jarring bit about the production was having “Fat and Greasy” followed by the serious and equally amazing though incredibly different “Black and Blue,” which was performed beautifully by the four primary players. We in the audience laughed and then were forced to switch gears very quickly to a somber one. Both were powerful, and the juxtaposition made for powerful reactions to the mix of elements brought to mainstream culture by the Harlem Renaissance, so the shock was likely intentional.
I could keep talking about how delightful seeing this was, but I would prefer to repeat a very strong recommendation to see this. I really didn’t want it to end, and it is not to be missed. Go.