The song, Handful of Keys is one of the most difficult stride piano compositions to play and one of the most pleasing song to hear. It has enjoyed many interpretations over the years and it is one of many great songs by jazz composer Fats Waller. Mr. Waller was one of the innovators of the Harlem stride style of jazz piano. He is responsible for some of the most famous and popular songs in the history of the jazz and many of those songs are included in the Tony winning musical revue, Ain’t Misbehavin’.
From now until November 29, Portland Center Stage will present Ain’t Misbehavin’. Although the show originally featured only five players, the PSC production will include an expanded cast. A total of eleven performers will take the stage to perform the show.
The book for Ain’t Misbehavin’ was written by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr. The show includes music by Mr. Waller as well as other popular American composers. It centers on a time when night clubs such as the Cotton Club were in fashion. It opened on Broadway in 1978 with a cast that included Nell Carter. Although the Broadway show was a hit with New York audiences, it became nationally known when NBC broadcast a video production staring the original cast in 1982.
The original production closed in 1982, but Ain’t Misbehavin’ has enjoyed many revivals over the years, including a 1988 production which starred the original cast and a touring production of the show which featured Frenchie Davis, Trenyce Cobbins and Ruben Studdard of American Idol fame. The musical is the recipient of two Emmys, three Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards.
Fats Waller’s life story is as compelling as his music. The youngest of eleven children, Mr. Waller went against the wishes of his preacher father and became a jazz musician at the age of fifteen. Although he only lived to be forty, he copywrited over 400 songs along with his collaborator Andy Razaf.
His superior piano playing and wit made him a very popular performer, whose songs were both commercially and critically successful. He was so sought after that in the 1920’s he was once kidnaped in Chicago and taken to Al Capone’s, Hawthorne Hotel where he was forced to perform a concert for the occasion of Mr. Capone’s birthday.
Mr. Waller has received many posthumous accolades including being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame and is the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Each of these honors came shortly after the first production of Ain’t Misbehavin’.
The Portland Center Stage production has a cast that has many Broadway and off Broadway credits among them. Performers include Andre’ Ward who appeared in the Broadway productions of The Producers and Saturday Night Fever and Charity Angél Dawson who was in Broadway’s, Side Show.
The production is directed by Chris Coleman who has been the artistic director of the Portland Center Stage since May of 2000. Mr. Coleman is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and has recently directed the world premiere of Edward Foote at Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs from Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with additional matinees at 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sunday and Thursdays at noon. Tickets to the show range from $30.00 to $47.00.
As Mr. Waller is the composer of such cannabis infused songs as, The Viper Drag and such suggestive ditties as, The Joint is Jumpin’ the theater advises that the show is best enjoyed by those persons over the age of twelve.
In addition to the play, the theater will host, Post-Show Conversations with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble and Special Guests after select matinees. Guests will include jazz writer Lynn Darroch on Sunday, November 1 and Local Jazz vocalist Marilyn Keller on Sunday, November 8.
Eliza Gale – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
Eliza Gale began her blogging career interviewing aspiring actors and industry professionals on a Los Angeles based website called Curvewire. She started www.elizagalesintervviews in 2012 and has interviewed over three hundred people about their jobs and businesses since then. She has contributed many interviews to 360drinks.com, which is a Portland based happy-hour website. She also writes for Examiner.com and AXS.com.