Tonight I saw Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Portland Center Stage. You have until November 29th to do the same. Do not miss out. It was amazing.
The house lights dimmed, the non-verbal reminder to turn off your phones was played, a man walked onto the stage in silence and then we were introduced to the stage itself. A masterful piece of art, structure and light I thought to myself that it could have overwhelmed the action of the musical if it hadn’t been given this moment to twirl before the audience and show off it’s dress.
I was wrong. Nothing could have overwhelmed the action of this musical. Nothing could outshine the performers on the stage. Each amazing thing is topped by another but nothing tops those performers.
The musical itself is very nearly operatic in that there is little to no conversation. The structure is a series of vignettes. The sense is a sampler plate of the best desserts all different types and flavors. Or a seven course meal with wine pairing by the very best imaginable chef, freshest ingredients, most spot on atmosphere.
I loved the performers so much it’s hard to call out individuals. This is the complete list.
Charity Angle Dawson
Mia Michelle McClain
David St. Louis
Ricardy Charles Fabre
Their voices and personalities are to other musicals and performers as Salt and Straw is to regular ice cream. It’s like pairing salty and sweet or putting bacon on a maple bar.
I know the play is about Harlem but it shines with the best moments of Portland, the moments when we experimented, when Voodoo Donuts said “why not Nyquil in donuts” and the FDA said “because it isn’t food!” New things arose, fresh things, exciting things, things that later tapered down to tourist stops or our grandparent’s music but still with the hint of amazing.
Yet at no point does Ain’t Misbehavin’ feel like our grandparent’s music. The voices are true to the era but fresh. David Jennings does an amazing piece under psychedelic lights called “The Viper’s Drag” which stands on its own as worth the cost of Admission. Charity Dawson, David St Louis, and Mia McClain for the cleverest interpretation of “Honeysuckle Rose” I’ve ever seen with perfect background facial expressions.
Olivia Phillip’s voice sounds like crème brûlée, soft and crisp, sweet and burnt. I am also desperately desirous of her wardrobe and every song she sang was straight to my soul from “Squeeze Me” to “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed.” Also, big feet is just a natural side effect of being tall. Stupid boy. Ok, crushworthy David St. Louis, Bass singer of the best quality, who started “Your Feet’s Too Big” but has to be mentioned for “Lounging at the Waldorf” as well.
Maiesha McQueen shined with “Handful of Keys” and Charity Angél Dawson nailed it with “When the Nylons Bloom Again.” DeMone brought hilarious shape to “Fat and Greasy” as well as beautiful continuity throughout. Mia McClain was also adorable from the top of her straw hat to her toes with facial expressions to match in “Find Out What They Like.”
Then there’s André Ward. When he’s first introduced he seems goofy and weird but then to the audience and the characters around him it becomes apparent he’s a genius. A total genius. He sublimated himself into the era to the point of making me wonder if he was the long lost science project to combine all the genes of the Rat Pack into one man with just a touch of Fred Astaire because why not just go overboard when making a theatrical star in a science lab? Then there’s this twinkle in his eye, and a moment, a pause, and I realized that while he embodied the era and the music for Ain’t Misbehavin’ that he could just as easily do the same for Les Mis or Tron. Complete scope.
I could compliment all the individuals all night but that doesn’t even come close to expressing what a great group they were performing together, the smartness of the directing, the beauty of the production, and the miraculously good music.
This is it. This is the must see play of the season. Go see it.
Note: The website does not specify who sang what and I am doing my best to pair singers with songs based on memory. If I get any pairings wrong it’s more likely that I got the name wrong. Please do let me know.