Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was an African-American jazz pianist, organist, composer, singer and comedic entertainer. He lived from the turn of the 20th century through 1943 and is best-known for his compositions Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Honeysuckle Rose – lively, upbeat jazz works that inspire some dancing in the aisles… which is exactly what you’ll want to do when you attend a showing of Portland Center Stage’s adaptation of Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Written in 1929 by the acclaimed musician, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a stride jazz composition written in AABA format over 32 bars. It has been re-recorded by a myriad of artists over the years, from Ray Charles to Nat King Cole and Willie Nelson.
This might be where you’re wondering how a jazz composition was adapted into a full hour-and-a-half play. In normal circumstances, Ain’t Misbehavin’ would be performed in an entirely different atmosphere, as artistic director Chris Coleman explains. “There’s no script really,” he says. “Normally they would just be in a nightclub singing, but with this musical you’re trying to figure out what’s the scene inside the song, and how do you stage that physically.”
Discovering the scene inside the song is exactly what gives Ain’t Misbehavin’ some real depth. As is usually the case with Portland Center Stage productions, the props and staging shine right alongside some serious acting talent. The actors shine as they portray their roles, something that isn’t easy to do when you’re delivering a performance entirely in song.
New York-based actor André Ward explains how he stays in the zone. “It’s so joyous,” he says with a huge smile. “There’s something about working with amazing people that just lifts me. When there’s that energy you have with this group of people…” he trails off, eyes shining.
Energy is exactly what this performance exudes. You’ll find it extremely difficult not to burst out of your chair at any given moment. Each performance will be punctuated by uproarious applause and some serious hootin’ and hollerin’. It’s a vibe the actors both expect and hunger for.
Principle actor David St. Louise explains it perfectly. “We need that energy coming back when we are asking for it, though it’s not an overt ask. It’s like cotton candy. It melts all over and you’re happy and it lifts you to the next level. It’s dessert.”
Looking for some delicious musical dessert to accompany a night of dramatic dinner? Then get yourself together and realize you Ain’t Misbehavin‘. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at www.pcs.org, 503.445.3700 or in person at the Gerding Theater at the Armory box office (128 NW Eleventh Avenue, Portland, OR.). Regular tickets start at $42. Preview performance tickets start at $34. Rush tickets are $20. Tickets for students and patrons who are 30 or younger are $30. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (excluding November 8, 10, 22 and 26); 2 p.m. matinees on select Saturdays and Sundays; and matinees at noon on select Thursdays. Full schedule and more information can be found by clicking here.