By coincidence, last weekend saw the local opening of two shows that had premiered on Broadway in the 1970s with all-black casts.
Although "Ain't Misbehavin' " is subtitled "The Fats Waller Musical Show," you'll learn precious little about the great performer-composer from it. On the other hand, the revue--playing at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza's Forum Theatre under auspices of the local Cabrillo Music Theatre--is a fast-moving two hours of song and dance capturing the flavor of '30s Harlem.
The show is pretty much a selection of songs that Waller (1904-43) became identified with, many of which he wrote with various lyricists. There's no biographical information here, nor does anyone specifically portray Waller (musical director Darryl Archibald is the pianist).
Some of the songs, including the title number, "Honeysuckle Rose," "Two Sleepy People" and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" should be familiar to most music lovers. Others are more obscure, at least to the current generation. They're performed by three women and two men, plus a small backup band.
The current production was directed and choreographed by Cleo King, who has appeared in a previous incarnation, as have two of the five featured performers.
The singers are equally matched, though Marvin Thornton is something more of a dancer than Lance Roberts (who gets more of the male vocal solos), and Victoria G. Platt's comedy tends more to the clownish than Pamela J. Ross' or Lita Gaithers'.
"The Wiz," an early '70s adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz" works very well with the young actors assembled by director Jan Glasband for the Arts Youth Ensemble in Simi Valley.
While some of composer Charlie Smalls' boogaloo rhythms have an air of early "Soul Train," his score holds up well enough overall.
Dorothy San~o is a vivacious Dorothy, the part created on Broadway by Stephanie Mills and on screen by a seriously overage Diana Ross. Notable among the huge supporting cast are Ryan Mills as the Scarecrow, Chris Vasquez as the Tin Man and--a real audience favorite--Gabe Portilla as a hipster Lion. Alexandra Nester and Nathalie Gitomer are the Good Witches; Monkela Davis is almost overpowering as the Wicked Witch who sings "Don't Bring Me No Bad News," and Ronal Marquette plays the Wizard effete without overdoing it.
Dani Brown's choreography is impressive--there are a lot of kids on stage during some numbers--and musical director Gary Poirot heads an orchestra comprising, for the most part, talented high-school-age musicians.
"Ain't Misbehavin' " continues through March 1 at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza's Forum Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, with performances Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. $22-$28 at the Civic Arts Plaza box office or through Ticketmaster at (805) 583-8700; (805) 497-8616.
"The Wiz" continues through Feb. 22 at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $10; $8, seniors, students and children 12 and under. (805) 581-9940.