Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Fats Wallers' music comes to Hillbarn with 'Ain't Misbehavin'


From left:  Majesty Scott, Katrina Lauren McGraw, Phaedra Tillery-Boughton, Dave J. Abrams and Anthone Jackson in 'Ain't Misbehavin.' (Mark and Tracy Photography)

Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory is staging a lively, high-energy production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” subtitled “The Fats Waller Musical Show.”

In this revue conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz, three women and two men sing some of Waller’s best known songs of the ’30 and ’40s. They include both songs he wrote and songs he performed and made famous.

The action takes place in an after-hours Harlem gin joint with the six-member band  on a small platform. Six round tables with two seats are arrayed around the performing space.

Audience members are invited to sit at two of them while the others are used by the cast. At the first matinee, two youngsters sat at one table and seemed entirely taken by the show.

The show opens with the company performing the title song plus “Lookin’ Good but Feelin’ Bad.”

Thereafter each performer is featured. Anthone Jackson as Ken, joined by Katrina Lauren McGraw as Nell, sings a suggestive “Honeysuckle Rose.” Phaedra Tillery-Boughton as Armelia sings another suggestive song, “Squeeze Me.”

Dave J. Abrams as André is a terrific dancer, especially in “How Ya Baby” with Majesty Scott as Charlaine.

The likable performers, under the musical direction of Jasmine Butler, sing and blend well.

Some of the best known songs in Act 2 are “Mean to Me,” “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.”

(Full disclosure: I wasn’t able to stay for Act 2 because of an unexpected schedule conflict.)

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” was a Broadway hit, winning the Tony and New York Drama Critics Circle awards as best musical of 1978, along with a 1979 Grammy for original cast album. It first came to San Francisco in 1979 and has been seen there and at several Bay Area venues ever since.

Small wonder that it’s so popular. It’s filled with timeless music that can be enjoyed by all ages.

The entertaining Hillbarn production is directed by Kevin Smith-Kirkwood, who also serves as choreographer. The set is by Matt Owens with costumes by Jasmine Williams, lighting by Pamila Gray and sound by Angela Yeung.

Running just under two hours with one intermission, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” will continue through March 27 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call 650-349-6411, Ext. 2, or visit