‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ ain’t really a musical. With no story or plot, it’s really just a slick revue plundering the back catalogue of legendary jazz pianist Fats Waller. Much of that music of the ’20s and ’30s is a lot of fun, of course, and here Mark Dickman on piano leads a suitably swinging band.
It’s set in a jazz club, dazzlingly evoked in Takis’s super shiny, art deco-lite set: a bronze floor and stepped stage area, concentric circles of gold glitter and old-fashioned lightbulbs making everything glint and twinkle. Five performers croon yearning love songs, or charleston, high-kick and jive around the floor space in more up-tempo tracks, with choreography by Oti Mabuse from ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.
Their voices are all good, with Landi Oshinowo really owning various numbers. The dancing skills are a touch more varied, but Wayne Robinson is especially slinky, all sinuous rolls and hip grooves in smoking-hot hymn to smoking pot ‘Viper’s Drag’. Carly Mercedes Dyer jitterbugs and bops about with a zesty if slightly manic air. Renée Lamb’s moves may lack precision occasionally, but she brings plenty of uncompromising sauce and stomp to the stage – especially in ‘Find Out What They Like’, undercutting the song’s somewhat dated sexual politics with real joy.
Directed by actor Tyrone Huntley, there’s an attempt to inject personality into the five performers and their relationships, but the barely there book doesn’t offer much to go on. And, annoyingly, characterisation rarely extends beyond the three women bitchily stealing each other’s spotlight or making mean comments about each other’s costumes.
It seems unfair to focus on what a show is not, but it does feel like there’s a bigger-budget, bigger-venue version of ‘Ain’t Misbehaving’ that would make more sense: a whole stage of swirling dancers for ‘The Jitterbug Waltz’ or ‘The Joint is Jumpin’’ might have tipped this more purposefully into flashy dance entertainment territory. As it stands, it’s a treat for Fats Waller fans, but unlikely to set the casual musical theatre goer’s world alight.