Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Ain't Misbehavin'
Barrington Stage Company
Review by Fred Sokol

Anastacia McClesky, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr.,
Maiesha McQueen, Arnold Harper II,
and Allison Blackwell

Photo by Daniel Rader
Ain't Misbehavin', continuing at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through July 9, is spectacular joie de vivre theater. Originally conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, the musical features the music of Fats Waller. Luther Henderson is credited for his musical adaptations, orchestrations and arrangements created for the original 1978 production, as is Arthur Faria for original choreography and musical staging. This production is exquisitely choreographed and directed by Jeffrey L. Page, while Kwinton Gray provides musical direction, conducts the band and plays an upright piano throughout the two hour presentation.

Welcome to the 1930s Harlem's Savoy Ballroom where five versatile, gifted actors bring to life one Waller number after another. Costumer Oana Botez has outfitted three women in dazzling dresses and the men in period pants of blue. The musical does not have a conventional plot; it relies upon each scene to tell a story. The throughlines rest within the music rather than overarching drama. After a prologue, the production kicks off with "Ain't Misbehavin'," soon moves along to the recognizable "Honeysuckle Rose," and then pianist Gray has the opportunity to showcase his stride technique at the keyboard. Jarvis B. Manning and Arnold Harper combine on an excellent "Ladies Who Sing with the Band." Actresses Allison Blackwell, Anastacia McClesky, and Maiesha McQueen fuse voices with precision on "When the Nylons Bloom Again." Before the men join them on "Off-Time," the ladies sport impeccable harmony.

The second act finds the group departing Harlem, and after a fine instrumental "Entr'acte" by the six-person, visible band, the company flies into "Spreadin' Rhythm Around." Jarvis B. Manning is especially effective leading "The Viper's Drag (The Reefer Song)." Maiesha McQueen's poignant "Mean to Me" yields to a boisterous "Your Feet's Too Big" rendition by Arnold Harper II.

If anything, the show shifts to an even higher gear at this point in the evening. The men are fittingly audacious with "Fat and Greasy," and some of those watching at a recent performance couldn't resist from happily chiming in as well. Perhaps the pinnacle performance of all features the company on "Black and Blue" when five sweet voices blend fluently.

Ain't Misbehavin' then swings into a medley of familiar songs among which are "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," and "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie." From its opening scene through finale, the production transports observers first to the night club and beyond.

Throughout, one feels the individual and collective ardor of this troupe of performers. They are simultaneously zealous and disciplined. The men and women slide from one persona, as dictated by a particular vignette, to the next. Jeffrey L. Page's movement direction is oftentimes swift yet thoughtful. In all, separate stories, through the numbers, catch and engage each time without exception. The up-tempo action appropriately diminishes and allows space for more touching ballads to be effectively delivered. Nuance is not lost.

This musical is often referred to as a revue and that is accurate. The BSC run, co-produced with Geva Theatre Center of Rochester, New York, benefits from the interface of actor/singer dexterities and terrific leadership as trained performers realize potential. The work of Kwinton Gray and the contingent of adept instrumentalists should not be undervalued. Perhaps you, too, saw and valued the musical performances on the recent Tony Awards television broadcast. Barrington's celebration on stage approximates that level of expertise. Watch live and admire the mix of ingenuity and professionalism.

Ain't Misbehavin' funs through July 9, 2022 at Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA. For tickets and information, call 413-236-8888 or visit