It’s a tribute to the music of Fats Waller and, trust me, this cast Ain’t Misbehavin over at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
If you’re having a bad day when you watch this show, you’ll feel light as a feather afterwards. If you’re having a good day, you’ll leave feeling like you kissed Heaven.
This is not a musical. It’s a revue. So don’t go in expecting plot and a story. What you can expect is a powerhouse troupe of 5 performers who will sing, dance, and entertain their way into your hearts.
The show benefits tremendously from the choreography of Ray Mercer. It is so fun and inventive and enhanced the songs so much, especially with its skillful execution by the performers. The choreography runs the gamut from the popular dances of the 20s through the 40s, but always with a dash of spice that makes it original and unique.
Jim Boggess and his orchestra are precisely on point with the classic jazz numbers which invoke memories of smoky clubs and speakeasies, yet still feel like they belong in the modern times. Lindsay Pape’s costumes burst with color and class. Each of the women wears a brightly colored gown (purple, red, and turquoise) while the men are snappily dressed in three piece suits that look like they’re from the 1920s. Jim Othuse’s set is simple, but effective with his piano key arches and a backdrop of instruments. Othuse’s lights lend emotional heft to the songs as they amplify the moods of the numbers.
Kathy Tyree’s direction is a real winner. For a revue, staging is an absolute key and hers is magnificent. The performers use the space extremely well and they are incredibly animated. Tyree manages to add a bit of theatre to the production as she’s able to get a few amusing bits of comedy into the piece, but also knew how to guide her troupe through the emotions of a song. I also especially appreciated how she worked moments with troupe members not directly singing as they were always engaged in appropriate actions and reactions which really made it feel like they were performing in a club.
The dancing of DJ Tyree is worth the price of admission by itself. He is so lithe and smooth and his dancing reminded me of a young Cab Calloway. And his tenor voice is rich and velvety and just livens up his moments. Hallmarks of his performance are his showstopping numbers “The Viper’s Drag” and “That Ain’t Right”.
Jus.B has a stellar debut at the Playhouse. He has a towering presence that grabs attention and a wry sense of humor enhanced by his mighty baritone. A few of his shining moments are his awesome and sustained high note in “Honeysuckle Rose”, a tour de force comedic delivery in “Your Feet’s Too Big”, and a sweet rendition of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”.
Dara Hogan adds a nice bit of ditz to her character of Charlaine which made for some amusing moments. She made full use of it in “Yacht Club Swing”, but also soared in “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” and “Lounging at the Waldorf”.
Leiloni Brewer exudes a strong diva nature as her Armelia enjoys being the center of attention. Brewer also has a tight grip on comedy as her repartee with Nell provided some of the funniest moments of the night. And, man, can she belt out a tune. Some of my favorite numbers came from that potent alto and included “When the Nylons Bloom Again” and “Find Out What They Like”. The latter was further boosted by her lively power dancing.
Last, but not least, is Tiffany White-Welchen who is smokin’ good as Nell. The character is explicitly said to be Nell Carter and I’d put up her ability to power out a song against Carter’s any day of the week. She nails Carter’s style to the floor in “Cash for Your Trash” and also gets one of the most beautiful songs of the night with her rendition of the tragic “Mean to Me”.
If you’re a lover of Fats Waller or jazz in general or just in need of a good time to take you away from the cares of the world, then Ain’t Misbehavin is going to be the show for you.
Ain’t Misbehavin runs at the Omaha Playhouse through June 20. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $42 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office or by calling 402-553-0800 or visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.
Photo provided by Robertson Photography