Ain't Misbehavin' | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Ain't Misbehavin'

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AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', Touchstone Theatre. If you're going to do a song and dance revue with the barest skeleton of a plot, you'd better be damn sure you have some outstanding performers. The Tony Award-winning musical Ain't Misbehavin' is chock-full of great songs by legendary honky-tonk tunester Fats Waller, but with the less-than-stellar five-member ensemble Touchstone Theatre has assembled, what's intended as rip-roaring entertainment is rarely more than passably diverting.

The ineffective conceit behind Touchstone's production is to set the 25 musical numbers in a Harlem dwelling where five buddies eat, drink, sass each other, and sing Waller tunes. But their predictable merrymaking and ribald talk merely distract from the songs. I found myself concentrating on Chuck Larkin's talented, self-assured four-piece band whenever the numbers grew tiresome or the staging repetitive--more often than I care to remember.

There are good actors, singers, and dancers here, but no one who can do all three at the same time. Dexter Warr and Jenna Ford dance outstandingly--so well, in fact, that they're out of breath and off-key for some of their songs. Jean V. Garrison and Michael A. Shepperd have rich, robust voices but work best when they're standing still. Most successful are the mellow, reasonably paced songs, like the mournful "Black and Blue" and the trippy "The Viper's Drag." Most successful for pure musical entertainment, you're better off buying the original cast album or chilling out at the Green Mill.

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