“Ain’t Misbehavin’ — The Fats Waller Musical Show” is this summer’s Barter “fill-in” presentation that’s in town for a short run ending on Sept. 8.
Although Waller, a very talented pianist, organist, composer and comedian, was famous in his day, primarily including the Great Depression, Prohibition and the start of World War II, few people are familiar with the man and his too-short career.
The two songs of his you may recognize are “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” while musicians might remember that he popularized a style of keyboard playing called “Stride Piano.” But for most of us, that’s about it. And more’s the pity.
This is a very good show with plenty of music — actually, it is all music — five highly talented singers and dancers and a live band. But I must caution that it contains copious amounts of drinking, and, at least in a much-too-long number, “The Viper’s Drag” aka “The Reefer Song,” it appears to glorify smoking marijuana. In fact, about halfway through this song, I saw one couple hastily leaving with their young daughter. And, for once, I agree with their decision.
Yes, Waller frequently played speakeasies during Prohibition when illegal liquor, illegal drugs and blatant sexuality were the misrule, but for modern audiences — especially family audiences — this production, in my opinion, carries realism too far.
I am not against an accurate portrayal of a man and his times and am not suggesting “Ain’t Misbehavin’” should be downgraded, but just beware that it is quite gritty. There’s no obvious profanity — not counting mostly arcane cant — and no nudity, but it is highly suggestive.
If you are unprepared for a glimpse, albeit sanitized, into the nightlife and culture of Prohibition, give this show a pass. Otherwise, go and enjoy a slice of Americana that you may not know ever existed.
For reservations: 276-628-3991 or www.bartertheatre.com.