Compiled in 1978, prototype jukebox musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a big-hearted breeze through the music of pioneering jazz pianist Fats Waller.
Making his directorial debut, actor Tyrone Huntley succeeds in infusing at least a hint of narrative into the dense but disconnected playlist that makes up the show. Implied stories of romantic and professional jealousies develop through lingering touches, fuming glances, and breezy, mid-song bickering.
Building recognisable personalities from their barely-defined characters, the cast are sassy and charismatic, their interactions warm and lively. Wayne Robinson seethes and giggles through a cloud of dope smoke on sultry number Viper’s Drag, while Carly Mercedes Dyer shows off a knack for comedy, squeaking and scrambling about the space, frenetically miming through the daft Yacht Club Swing.
The show’s downbeat highlight, though, is a subtle but impactful take on Black and Blue, touching lightly on the unspoken omnipresence of racial prejudice in a measured, moody flow of cascading harmonies.
Oti Mabuse’s impeccably crisp choreography riffs on the dance styles of the period, featuring jitterbugs and jives punctuated by skips, sidelong leaps, and weightless mid-air spins.
The tight band, led from the piano by Alex Cockle, put plenty of heat under their numbers, but never get an opportunity to cut loose with solos. They’re seated throughout in a striking, steeply-raked bandstand conceived by designer Takis, a brightly lit golden bullseye that captures the threadbare glitz and reckless cheer of the era in an ostentatious blitz of burnished copper foil.