The Crossroads Theatre Company has kicked off its 2011-12 season with an extraordinary musical homage to composer and performer Thomas Wright Waller. Yes, the “Fats” Waller. The show, of course, is the now classic salute to Waller, plus the Harlem era of swing venues such as the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom….Ain’t Misbehavin. The book is by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr. with music (mostly) by “Fats” Waller, and lyrics by various writers. Mr. Horwitz attended the opening night performance on Saturday, October 8, 2011, as a special guest of honor.
Star of the night, beyond the marvelous cast, was André DeShields, who starred in the original production of Ain’t Misbehavin’, and returned as its director and choreographer for this Crossroads Theatre Company production. The result is a joyous, high energy musical revue equal to the original award winning Broadway production that we saw in the early 1980’s.
The outstanding cast includes Tyrone Davis Jr. (André),Zurin Villanueava (Charlaine), Rheaume Crenshaw (Nell), Johmaalya Adelekan (Armelia), and Jacob Ming-Trent (Ken). The cast names are the names of the original Broadway cast…Nell is the late Nell Carter who won a Tony Award for her Ain’t Misbehavin performance.
All five members excel in ‘struttin’, strumin’ and singin.’ In the first act, which opens with a knock-out version of Waller’s biggest hit Ain’t Misbehavin, the title song, contains 15 tunes that are basically ensemble numbers, however, the second act, also 15 songs, features several solos. Jacob Ming-Trent, for example, a superb “Fats” Waller look-a-like, has a show-stopper turn with Your Feet’s Too Big. This is one of several songs associated with Waller, but not written by him. Tyrone Davis Jr. has a crowd pleaser with a 1943 tune (The Reefer Song) The Viper Drag. Rheaume Crenshaw asNell Carter is center stage with her face lit by a single spot, and delivers the heart tugging classic Mean To Me.
Some of the other now classic members of the Great American Songbook; Honeysuckle Rose, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Black and Blue,The Joint Is Jumpin’, I’ve Got A Feeling I’m Falling, Two Sleepy People, I’m Going To Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter, and It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie.
The excellent swinging live band, is led by J. Leonard Oxley as musical director and onstage stride pianist. Oxley played in the original production of Ain’t Misbehavin on Broadway and internationally. The other members of the band are; Ken Crutchfield (Drums), George Grier (Bass), Isaiah Richardson, Jr. (Clarinet), Robert Stringer (Trombone), Tim Wenat (Trumpet).
The terrific production team includes Burke Wilmore (Lighting/set design), Deborah Caney (Costume Design), Joshua Reid (Sound Design), Pat McCorkle (Casting) and, keeping everything moving, Brian Westmoreland (Production Stage Manager).
The season-opening show will run from October 6 through 23. The very comfortable Crossroads Theatre (stadium type seating) is located at 7 Livingston Avenue (adjacent to the George Street Playhouse and the State Theatre) in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Plenty of parking and excellent restaurants. The theatre is just a few blocks from the New Brunswick train station. Visit www.crossroadstheatrecompany.org or call (732) 545-8100 for ticket information.
More about André DeShields: His career spans more than forty years. He has distinguished himself as an unparalleled actor, director and educator. He is the recipient of the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award and the 2007 Village Voice OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance. Mr. De Shields is best known for his show stopping performances in four legendary Broadway musicals: The Full Monty (Tony Nomination), Play On! (Tony Nomination), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Emmy Award) and The Wiz (Title Role). “As an original member of the Broadway miracle, Ain’t Misbehavin’, I cannot imagine a more splendid way to celebrate the production’s 33rd anniversary than by serving as director for this perfect musical as it opens Crossroads’ 2011-2012 season. Moreover, what a delicious privilege it is to be able to pass the show’s incomparable legacy to a new generation of distinctive performers,” said De Shields.
Not familiar with the Crossroads? It was founded in 1978 by Ricardo Khan and L. Kenneth Richardson (first Artistic Director), “Crossroads Theatre Company embraces the vision that African-American theater is intended for a broad-based, diverse audience. As a major force in the development of new ideas and the introduction of formerly marginalized writers, Crossroads produces works that enrich and diversify the representation of African American culture on the American stage.” Crossroads has produced more than 40 world premieres and received the Tony Award® in 1999 for Outstanding Regional Theatre in the United States. The Producing Artistic Director is Marshall Jones,III.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 8, 2011