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By Vince Mediaa

Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory celebrates their comeback to live theatre with a trip back to Harlem in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and the music will bring you to your feet. "Ain't Misbehavin'," the 1978 Broadway musical conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz, revue celebrating both the Great American Fats Waller Songbook and the great American venues like the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom is now on stage at The Hillbarn stage through March 27, 2022. New Artistic Director Randy O’Hara announced at opening night that March 11th was the exact date in 2020 when the Hillbarn went dark for two years. This opening night was an event for the entire Hillbarn staff and loyal subscribers as the stage doors reopened.

O’Hara is also pleased to have the icon Fats Waller open his stage doors “When Ain’t Misbehavin’ was originally produced for Broadway 45 years ago it was a celebration of Black excellence, joy, the importance of the Harlem Renaissance and its lasting impression on the music of the day. 45 years later that joy, excellence, and importance still rings true. Director/Choreographer Kevin Smith-Kirkwood says about his talented cast “These five performers come together to laugh, drink, dance, to tell jokes and share stories. That's the power of music and art, to bring people together. And we need that more than ever right now.” Kirkwood has assembled an impressive cast of five local pros to bring Waller's music to stage.

The two act two hour show opens in a classy night club designed by the creative Matt Owens with an on stage band under the keen musical direction of Jasmine Butler. The opening song of course is the 1919 Fats Waller song, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” it was a staple of 1930s Clubs and Ballrooms, where folks of any color of New York society paid tribute to the vocal divas and piano players who showcased swing music.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue, with 30 plus songs presented one after another with not much script between the numbers.There are some full throttle great tunes in this show that is a compendium of songs written by the incredible Fats Waller, a man who could play jazz piano like no other. But since there is no book to tie the tunes together, it falls to the director and cast to keep the energy and momentum at a peak level. The revue requires top-quality performers and musicians who are capable of performing each song so that it grabs and holds the audience’s attention. In general, this format has faded from popularity, replaced by the jukebox musical. Waller copyrighted more than 400 songs in his 39-year lifetime, and he recorded more than 100 songs in 1938 alone.

This Hillbarn production has a talented cast of singers and performers who do not use microphones yet their voices fill the entire barn to the back row and beyond. The Company features the stunning Katrina Lauren McGraw as “Nell,” I last saw her in the in the role of Armelia. In this Foster City cast Armelia is played by the rousing Phaedra Tillery-Boughton. The dynamic Majesty Scott as “Charlaine,” the TBA honored Dave J Abrams as “Andre” and the compelling Anthone Jackson as “Ken.” Song highlights include “The Viper’s Drag,” ”The Reefer Song,” “Squeeze Me,” along with the jitterbug dance number “How Ya Baby,” the powerhouse vaudeville flashback tune “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band,” and the stride piano-centered “Handful of Keys,” “Jitterbug Waltz” one of jazz’ icon songs ever written, to the madcap “This Joint is Jumpin’” that closes act one.

The audience, often singing along, to the show’s second Act rousing hot dance numbers by Kirkwood. The second act features a more sexy set of tunes. Each company member has their moment to shine in solos that include Waller hits, ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter,” “Two Sleepy People,” I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed,” “I Can’t Give You Anything Else But Love” and “It’s A Sin To Tell a Lie.” One undeniable star onstage is the music director Butler, who conducts the on stage band featuring Gerald Williams, William Berg, Trevor Acevedo, Derek James, Russ Gold, and the jazz expert Nancy Godfrey.

Butler spends time riffing both with the cast and her band, The score brings you to your feet and the is a jazz sensation bringing the cast front and center. The second act also brings all five performers in a hauntingly emotional rendition of Waller's racially charged "Black and Blue" co-composed with Wallers frequent collaborator Harry Brooks. Kirkwood kept the pace rapid, and the choreography classic jazz hands and vaudeville interesting stage stompers. Owen's stage level night club set, complete with a nightclub tables is eye-catching. Owen also crafted an integrated deco proscenium that reflected the classy light design of Pamila Gray’s nightclub lighting with two side sets of spots and moody colors or blue and shaded red.

The costumes by Jasmine Williams set the tone and mood of the five singers with classic 30’s jitterbug vibe. Stage manager River Bermudez-Saners kept the actors on stage for most of the show, and made sure all five hit their marks. Cast member Phaedra Tillery-Boughton was also the assistant director who streamlined many of the singer's entrances. The sound for this romp is all natural, yet sound designer Angela Yeung did a perfect blend with the live on stage band - not overpowering the non mic’d singers.

The music of Fats Waller is high-energy joyous, sassy, tearful and tender, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical bash of Harlem’s best renaissance swing music. The Hillbarns season continues with I LOVE YOU YOU’RE PERFECT NOW CHANGE April 22, CLUE opens June 2, and THE FOUR GIFTS opens August 11th. But in the meantime “It's A Sin To Tell a Lie” take a trip back to the music and dance of Fats Waller that will make you misbehave, clap, cheer and stand.

Hillbarn Theatre and Conservatory - Presents


A beloved celebration of the music of Fats Waller, Ain’t Misbehavin’ was originally conceived by Murry Horwitz and Tony Award-winner Richard Maltby, Jr.

Directed and Choreographed by Kevin Smith-Kirkwood

Music Direction by Jasmin Butler


Katrina Lauren McGraw, Dave J Ambrams, Anthone Jackson,

Majesty Scott, and Phaedra Tillery-Boughton

Must close March 27th

The Hillbarn Theatre

1285 East Hillsdale Blvd. Calif 94404

Two Hours with one intermission

Photos by Mark and Tracy Photos



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