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The Joy of 'Misbehavin' '

Production of Fats Waller's work makes skilled use of its intimate nightclub setting.


There was a certain appropriateness to the opening of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin' " at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday night.

Before its long Broadway run began in 1978, "Ain't Misbehavin' " first came to life as a nightclub-style cabaret entertainment at the Manhattan Theatre Club. And, of course, even beyond the cabaret connection, it's equally fitting for Waller's jazz- and stride-tinged songs to make an appearance in an out-and-out jazz venue.

Waller was one of the early African American entertainment luminaries, soaring across the music world with the intensity of a sky-brightening comet. In his relatively brief career (he made his first recordings in 1922, at 18, and died of pneumonia in 1943, at 39), he was a songwriter, a jazz and stride pianist, a satirical entertainer and a performer on stage, radio and films.

Despite his extraordinary capacities as a jazz improviser, Waller is probably best known to a wider audience for his songwriting, with a catalog (most of it written with Andy Razaf) that includes "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Black and Blue," "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling" and "Keeping Out of Mischief Now." All those numbers are present in "Ain't Misbehavin'," which was one of the first "catalog" shows, or staged sequences of songs by a single writer or writing team. The production's five singers, accompanied by pianist Dehner Franks, worked the material well Tuesday night, using the venue's minimal platform as a home base, frequently moving around the room in a fashion far different from the Broadway staging.

On "Honeysuckle Rose," for example, singer (and the show's director-choreographer) A. Curtis Farrow pulled a somewhat reluctant woman from the audience to serve as the object of his affections. And on "Find Out What They Like," Vivian Jett and Judi Edwards bestowed their considerable blandishments upon a male audience member. Ron Lucas moved around the tables, wickedly tempting his listeners as he lit up an imaginary joint to illustrate "Vipers Drag," and Inger Burton led the cast in an exuberant romp through "Handful of Keys."

It was all good fun, perfectly sized and staged for the room's nightclub dimensions. The singers brought a buoyant enthusiasm to their performances, with Farrow--his look, his movements and his derby hat powerfully reminiscent of Waller--constantly adding whimsical touches and asides, pulling the show along in its occasional slow moments. And Franks was a dependable accompanist, his few solo passages executed with brisk, Waller-like brio.


"Ain't Misbehavin'," tonight through July 26, at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 466-2210. $15 tonight, Sundays-Thursdays. $18 Fridays-Saturdays. With two-drink minimum. Shows at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

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