Theater Review: Timber Lake closes season with Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin'

Having seen Ain’t Misbehavin’ innumerable times, one could become a bit jaded, but the performance at Timber Lake has, without a doubt, the best cast ever put on stage. Directed by Chuck Smith, Goodman Theatre’s resident director, the production is nearly flawless. Fats Waller’s memorable music and lyrics were adapted for the stage by Richard Meltby Jr. in the late ’70s. It has become a classic, and Waller’s stride piano combined with romantic ballads make it a joy to behold.

The five multi-talented actors deliver every note and line to perfection. The group numbers, often with difficult harmony, are exactly on key. Dan Riley (Fats Waller) does many of my favorites—“The Lades Who Sing With the Band” with Sean Walton and, of course, “Your Feet’s Too Big.” Lili-Ann Brown’s talents are beautifully showcased. Her choreography is right on target, and the movements she devises so well exemplify the dance routines of the ’30s and ’40s. “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” charms, and her numbers with Walton are terrific.

Karen Marie Richardson and Bethany Thomas complete the company. Richardson recently understudied the role of Gypsy in New American Theater’s Tommy, where she was also dance captain. “Mean to Me” becomes her own, and in the WWII series of songs, “Cash For Your Trash” energizes the room. Thomas joins Richardson for “Find Out What They Like”—slightly naughty, but providing just the right comedic touch. The company numbers, “Handful of Keys,” “Off-Time, “The Joint is Jumpin’” and “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around” prepare us for the incomparable “Black and Blue.” Following the slapstick, “Fat and Greasy” (Riley and Walton), the leap from the ridiculous to the sublime takes one’s breath away. Smith grouped the singers in a tableau that enhanced the delicacy of the lyric.

We were entranced by the entire performance. The Broadway stage lighting with only two café tables and chairs, kept the energy focused. Only one thing was missing…Carl Cole. Mr. C. is Fats Waller personified, and his ability to play the entire score of Ain’t Misbehavin’ from memory is amazing. We also needed Andrew Cole’s percussion. In spite of that lack, this is the best interpretation of Waller’s work ever. Of course, friend Julian needed to be there, also.

Timber Lake near Mt. Carroll is a lovely summer day’s drive. When you arrange for your tickets, ask for directions. You can call 244-2035 for more information. Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs through Aug. 20. On our drive to sister Ruth’s in Rock Falls, where we spent the night, a full moon lighted our way.

From the Aug. 16-22, 2006, issue

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