Song & Stage

Theater Review: ‘Ain’t Misbehavin” at Gateway Playhouse

Ain’t Misbehavin’, now playing at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, is a tribute to 1930’s Harlem and the sounds of one of its most iconic residents, the composer Thomas “Fats” Waller. The music, as performed by the five talented cast members, transports us to that long-ago era in this hilarious, fast-paced and sometimes bawdy musical.

The plays two acts are packed with 30 numbers—based on the infectious music of Fats Waller—all of which capture the many different moods of that era, from the dynamics between men and women to the songs that pushed the envelope. With precious little dialog between characters, a new song begins just as the previous song ends. And the cast never misses a beat, all five working in sync to deliver a solid performance, their every move setting the scene for each new song sweeping the audience away on this journey into the culture of Harlem. The entire theater was clapping along and tapping their feet to the music.

Lavon Fisher-Wilson is brilliant. Her big, powerful voice commanded attention whenever she was on stage. Her songs come from deep inside, and she is fully committed to her character, bringing those jazzy tunes to life. She has good comedic timing as well, and will have the entire audience giggling at her antics. Danielle Lee Greaves and Debra Walton are excellent as well with their strong, clear voices. They’re as funny as can be to boot. When all three ladies harmonize together it’s mesmerizing. You can’t help but be spellbound.

The men that round out this quintet—Kingsley Leggs and T. Oliver Reid—are exceptional actors and performers. Leggs has a deep, rich voice that can silence a room. Reid’s voice is smooth and sultry, perfectly portraying the music of Fats Waller and the era of swing.  The cast is accompanied by an astounding five-man orchestra, led by music director/piano man William Knowles, playing bass, drums, trombone, trumpet and woodwinds.

The show’s namesake tune, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” is clearly a favorite, but there are so many numbers that will make you laugh. “Squeeze Me,” sung by Danielle Lee Greaves comes to mind; “Cash for Your Trash” by Lavon Fisher-Wilson; there’s “When the Nylons Bloom Again,” featuring all three ladies; oh, and “You’re Feets Too Big,” sung by Kinglsey Leggs, too. And there are even more that will have you laughing out loud!

“This Joint is Jumping” takes the show to intermission and will stay in your head long after the last curtain call. The duet between Leggs and Fisher-Wilson, “Honeysuckle Rose,” was a favorite; and “The Viper’s Drag,” by Reid and Leggs, was delightfully raunchy. “Fat and Greasy” was a crowd pleaser, and the closing number, “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” was fun, loud and powerful. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself on your feet with the rest of the audience as the final number comes to an end.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ is playing at the Gateway Playhouse now through July 16. For tickets and information visit gatewayplayhouse.com.

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