Thursday 25 April 2019

Ain't Misbehavin' @ The Southwark Playhouse

Ain't Misbehavin' @ The Southwark Playhouse

It's all glitz and glamour in this musical revue of Fats Waller's music, that sees Tyrone Huntley in his directorial debut pair up with Strictly star and choreographer Oti Mabuse. It's the first London revival of the show in almost 25 years and the all black cast certainly do justice to the 1920s jazz legend.

There's no narrative, though Huntley finds the story in each song and ties them together with smooth transitions. The shimmering set from takis, the on-stage band and the beautiful period costumes together create an authentic mood that swings from exuberant through steamy, sultry and seductive.

That extends to Mabuse's lively choreography. Charleston and jive dancing predominate, all flaps, kicks and cheers. Though the cast is only five-strong, they assuredly use the entire stage and solo dances are full of character. More than the technical dancing, it's the sheer enthusiasm of the performers that bowls over the audience. They are hugely energetic, their joyful emotions infectious.

It's the music, though, that's the star of the show. Waller's piano playing was hugely influential and the show cherrypicks his best songs, from the title song to 'Honeysuckle Rose', 'You're A Viper' and more. The band are great but sound imbalances prevail, which is sadly often the case at this venue.

The singing isn't always as authentic as the setting - riffs, trills and soulful tones sound a little too modern - but the standard remains exceptional. Renée Lamb in particular stands out for her delicate voice and subtle delivery, while Carly Mercedes Dyer gives bags of zeal with her comedy and dancing. Indeed, the ongoing competition between the three female performers hints at unheard stories both on and off the stage.

Ain't Misbehavin' is at its best, though, when it all slows down. Ballads are richly sung, but the real showstopper is 'Black And Blue', for its racial commentary as well as its stunning harmonies. The song soon leads into more lighthearted material, but its spell lingers over what is overall a glamorous and fun celebration of black entertainment.


Watch: Ain't Misbehavin' runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 1st June.

Ain't Misbehavin' @ The Southwark Playhouse

Ain't Misbehavin' @ The Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Pamela Raith