Ain’t Misbehavin’

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Ain’t Misbehavin’  

Westchester Broadway Theater, Elmsford, NY, February 6, 2019

Reviewed by Chip Deffaa for Cabaret Scenes

The lights darken in the theater. We hear the irresistible voice and piano-playing of the one-and-only Fats Waller—a recording from many years ago. Then the lights come up, the recording fades down, and the on-stage pianist, William Foster McDaniel, continues playing the piano in the joyous spirit of Waller himself. It’s a flawless transition—and one not easy to pull off. Not many pianists of today can fully get into the spirit of Waller’s work. But you can’t tell where Waller ends and McDaniel begins. The singers strut onto the stage to put over the first number—one of Waller’s most famous—and the title of the show—and already I’m hooked.

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It’s as effective an opening as you could hope for, and I’m confident the production is in good hands.  

Westchester Broadway’s Ain’t Misbehavin’—the 208th offering at this venerable dinner theater—is indeed in good hands. For starters, it is directed by none other than Richard Maltby, Jr.

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, who conceived and directed the original New York production some four decades ago. (It ran four years on Broadway, and won the Tony Award.

 The peerless original cast included Nell Carter, Ken Page, Andre De Shields, Charlaine Woodard, and Armelia McQueen.) William Foster McDaniel, who’s music director of the current production, was not the original music director of the original production—Luther Henderson was—but he wound up conducting the original Broadway cast, as well as the 1988 Broadway revival. In all, he’s conducted over 50 productions of this musical over the years.  

The score consists of songs Waller composed and performed, such as “Honeysuckle Rose” and “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling,” along with some numbers written by others but popularized by Waller (such as “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.” The show remains one of the all-time best musical revues celebrating a songwriter or performer.

 The score offers an abundance of riches, from big ebullient numbers like Waller’s immortal “The Joint Is Jumpin’,” to quieter (but no less intriguing) numbers like “The Jitterbug Waltz,” and the striking “Black and Blue.” There’s a lot to love.

My favorite performers were Ron Lucas, M. Martine Allard (whom I haven’t seen since she was a teen in the original Broadway cast of The Tap Dance Kid), and Tony Perry. But all get their opportunities. (I enjoyed them, but it’s hard to compete with the memories of Nell Carter, Ken Page, and Andre De Shields). In a sense, Waller himself is the real star. Collectively—singing his songs and tossing in his spoken comments—the five singers and six musicians conjure up the spirit of the irrepressible Waller. It’s a satisfying production, and dinner and the show will cost you much less than would a ticket alone in NYC.

Chip Deffaa

Chip Deffaa is the author of 16 published plays and eight published books, and the producer of 24 albums. For 18 years he covered entertainment, including music and theater, for The New York Post. In his youth, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He is a graduate of Princeton University and a trustee of the Princeton "Tiger" magazine. He wrote and directed such Off-Broadway successes as "George M. Cohan Tonight!" and "One Night with Fanny Brice." His shows have been performed everywhere from London to Edinburgh to Seoul. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, NARAS, and ASCAP. He’s won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award, the IRNE Award, and a New Jersey Press Association Award. Please visit:

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Chuck Prentiss

    I Dragged a Teen-Age friend, kicking and screaming, to see the Original 1971 Off-Broadway production. As soon as Andre De Shields sang: “I Dreamed About a Reefer Nine Feet Long”, my young friend was Hooked, and he immediately became a Musical Theater fan for life. I myself thought that Ken Page (previously a sensational Nicely Nicely Johnson) was as close to Fats Waller as one could possibly get. Who could suspect that one day Ken would become Old Deuteronomy?

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