“Ain’t Misbehavin’” gets the joint jumping again at Pioneer Theatre

Sat Sep 11, 2021 at 10:10 am
By Catherine Reese Newton
Featuring the music of Fats Waller, Aint Misbehavin’ runs through September 25 at the Pioneer Theatre Company. Photo: PTC

Pioneer Theatre Company returned after a 547-day intermission Friday night with the exuberant musical revue Ain’t Misbehavin’. Sassy, sly and silly in equal parts, it’s a timely remedy for the pandemic blues.

There’s no need for a plot in this celebration of the music of Thomas “Fats” Waller; there aren’t even characters per se, as the performers use their own names. The sharply dressed company sails through nearly thirty songs as slight changes of scenery move the action from club to club. 

Though the 90-minute running time flies by, the strategic placement of down-tempo numbers, the well-paced direction and choreography by Gerry McIntyre, and the seemingly effortless performances of the singers ensure that the evening doesn’t feel rushed.

Each of the five versatile stars delivers at least one solo show-stopper. Tyla Collier, the spunky ingenue in songs such as “Yacht Club Swing,” showed a sultry side in “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” Tyrick Wiltez Jones’ dance moves are as playful and stylish as his singing as he fronts numbers like “’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”; but it’s his feline swagger in “The Viper’s Drag,” a paean to marijuana, that brings down the house.

Mariah Lyttle squeezes every drop of innuendo from “Squeeze Me” and, in a lively duet with Terita Redd, has a blast with the questionable relationship advice in “Find Out What They Like.” 

Redd’s trumpet-like tones in “Cash for Your Trash” give way to torchy pathos in “Mean to Me.” (If not for PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg’s pre-curtain announcement and the fact Redd delivered a few of her songs perched on a stack of boxes at the side of the stage on Friday, you’d never guess that the actor was hit by a car two days before opening.) 

DeMone Seraphin, as proxy for Waller himself, brings an ebullient personality and a mischievous growl to the hilarious “Your Feet’s Too Big” but is equally capable of finesse in standards like “Honeysuckle Rose.”

The ensemble works splendidly together in mix-and-match combinations throughout the evening. A couple of the highlights are the fun vocal effects in “Handful of Keys,” a primer on Waller’s signature stride piano style, and the impeccable harmonies of “Black and Blue,” the show’s one truly somber moment.

Music director William Knowles, at the piano, leads the seven-member backing band. They handle the swing, blues, bebop, ragtime and more with panache, though the sound balance often favors the band at the expense of the witty wordplay.

Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ continues through Sept. 25 at the Roy W. and Elizabeth E. Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre at the University of Utah, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City; 801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org/tickets/. Face coverings are requested.

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