A Harlem Fats Waller Celebration in Boca Raton
By Skip Sheffield
Fats Waller jammed a lot of living into his short 39-year lifespan. Waller’s musical achievement is celebrated in the revival of the 1978 musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” continuing through June 1 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway,
“Ain’t Misbehavin’” is not a biographical show but a fast-moving musical parade of hits by Harlem prodigy Thomas “Fats,” Waller, 1904-1943. In addition to the sly 1929 title tune, the show, conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz includes such Waller standards as “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint is Jumpin’,” “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around” and “Black and Blue” as well as a slam-bang finale with hits by contemporary composers Waller made his own.
The five-member cast includes Phillip Boykin, Joy Lynn Jacobs, Shirley Tripp, Debra Walton and Reggie Whitehead, under the direction of Ron Hutchins. Musical direction is by Charles Creath, who is the onstage pianist.
Live piano is essential to this show, as that was Waller’s instrument, played in the revolutionary “Harlem Stride” style. For the first time at The Wick there is a full onstage band with bass, drums, woodwinds, trumpet and trombone. This really brings the singers and Waller’s musical to full, vibrant life.
The cast is comprised of five polished pros, all with prestigious Broadway and regional credits. The performer most familiar to area audiences is Reggie Whitehead, who is capable of carrying an entire show on his slim shoulders. In this case Whitehead is a utility player on the team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Waller was a self-taught musician who turned pro at 15, angering his preacher dad. He could be seen as a tragic example of a man with talent to burn who lived fast and died young. The closest we get to any "misbehavin' " is is comical tribute to the reefer man, "The Viper's Drag," written in the last year of his life.
There is nothing tragic about “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” It’s all about the joy of making music. Odds are you will be in a better mood once you see this show.
Tickets are $58, with group discounts available. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.