Feature

Ain’t Misbehavin’

<em>Ain&rsquo;t Misbehavin&rsquo;</em> has received a grand and glossy update at Chicago&rsquo;s Goodman Theatre.

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Goodman Theatre
Chicago
(312) 443-3800

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“It’s been 30 years since a little cabaret revue called Ain’t Misbehavin’ made the leap to Broadway,” said Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun-Times. An unexpected hit, the show ran for more than 1,600 performances and “instantly rekindled” interest in the music of the great stride pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller. Now the slight but rollicking cavalcade of catchy tunes—most originally recorded by Waller in the 1920s and ’30s—has received a grand and glossy update at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. Staging the show in such a large venue sacrifices some of its soulful intimacy, and director Chuck Smith does little to counteract the narrative deficiencies in the flimsy script by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz. Smith has deftly assembled a “massive showcase” for five supremely talented singer-actors with “power pipes and the plus-size personalities to match.”

A sublime performance by leading lady E. Faye Butler takes the production into can’t-miss territory, said Barbara Vitello in the Cook County, Ill., Daily Herald. Butler “sells a quirky tunelet like ‘Cash for Trash’ as convincingly as she sells the heartfelt ‘Mean to Me.’” Lina Kernan effortlessly shifts from torch singer in “Squeeze Me” to diva in “That Ain’t Right.” Parrish Collier owns the hedonistic and swinging “Viper’s Drag,” and John Steven Crowley offers up a waggish and charming version of the hilarious “Your Feet’s Too Big.” As good as the solo performances are, the ensemble pieces are better. The show’s highlight, a subdued and provocative “Black ’n’ Blue,” makes clear both the depth of this cast and the “scope of Waller’s genius.”

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