Bringing Fats Waller to life at Geva

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“Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show,” honors the trailblazing work of jazz composer and entertainer Thomas “Fats” Waller through a musical revue of his greatest hits.

Rather than employing a traditional mode of songs sandwiched between a narrative and dialogue, the revue features cast members playing themselves, performing the score in the form of a musical concert. Combined with a full swing band, the musical show shined on Broadway for over 1,500 performances from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Now more than 40 years later, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”—directed and choreographed by Jeffrey Page—is a timely piece in Geva Theatre Center’s 50th season. It plays on Geva’s Wilson Stage until Feb. 12.

Photo: Geva

After beginning performances on Jan. 17, the company’s first Saturday night performance was well-received by a nearly sold-out crowd. Theatergoers, ranging from pockets of students to older couples, filled the seats of the Wilson Stage and were greeted by a scenic design by Raul Abrego. Energy warmed the space as the cast made its first entrance, donned in bright-colored dresses, blue slacks, and sparkling heels designed by Oana Botez.

The show is performed by an ensemble cast of five, including Broadway talent, an “X Factor” contestant, and two “American Idol” finalists. Miya Bass, Paris Bennett, Jay Copeland, Judith Franklin, and Will Stone are triple-threat talents, bringing to the stage vocal acrobatics, high-energy dancing, and humorous audience interaction. The crowd returned the cast’s energy, with applause extending longer and longer after each number.

A standout moment included the audience roaring over Copeland’s performance of “The Viper’s Drag,” in which he pleaded with a patron to come to the stage to grab a figurative cigarette from him. Another included the full ensemble’s emotional performance of “Black and Blue,” which left the room in a temporary silence before breaking into applause.

A seven-piece swing band plays an equally important role, behind the cast for most of the performance. The band is under the direction of conductor and pianist Kwinton Gray, who plays the role of a modern-day Waller at the piano center stage, engaging with the singers and musicians throughout the show.

The band brought vivid life to Waller’s compositions, a reminder of why his trailblazing jazz and swing music became so popular in the first place.

Evan Coleman is a University of Rochester student. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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