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Review: 'Ain't Misbehavin''

San Jose Repertory Theatre re-creates the world and music of Fats Waller in its new production

HEY THERE, hep cats! Ready for a show that’s the bee’s knees? Put on your glad rags, take a jorum of skee and get a wiggle on down to the Rep to watch Ain’t Misbehavin’, a rollicking two-act music revue set to the music of the jazz pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller. I walked out of the theater with a real sense that I had seen a slice of history, when the Depression wreaked havoc on the country and jazz was king in Harlem. Waller was a consummate pianist and master of the stride technique. He was so good that he was once kidnapped, in 1926, in Chicago after leaving a performance. The men took him at gunpoint to a party at the Hawthorne Hotel, then owned by Al Capone. With a gun in his back, he was shoved in front of a piano and ordered to play. Waller then realized he was the surprise guest musician for Capone’s birthday party. According to legend, he emerged three days later, terribly tired and extremely drunk, but with thousands of dollars in his pocket that the partygoers and Capone himself had given him as tips.

With more than 30 songs, the joint starts jumpin’ as soon as the first chords of the title song are heard. It’s a combination of zoot suits, flappers, singing, dancing and jazz. The production is flawless, and musical director Kent Gash leads the small band while tickling the ivories himself. The cast of five sing and dance as if they were dames and daddies from that time period. One of the standouts is Christopher L. Morgan, whose performance of “The Viper’s Drag” with crowd interaction is hilarious. Listening to Rebecca F. Convington, Angela Grovey and Aurelia Williams harmonize in “When the Nylons Bloom Again” is heavenly. Ken Robinson shines in “Your Feet’s Too Big” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”

The revue also touches on a serious note with “Black and Blue,” exploring the racial tension during that time. All in all, it was a good time. If you’ve never heard of Waller, go see this play and maybe you’ll become a fan. After all, one never knows, do one?

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, a San Jose Repertory Theatre production, plays Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday at 11am and/or 8pm, Thursday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday to 2 and/or 7pm through April 18 at the Rep, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $21–$74. (408.367.7255)