Based on the life and music of Thomas “Fats” Waller, the Tony award-winning revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” is a swinging, finger-snapping, toe-tapping tribute to the black entertainers of the Harlem Renaissance in the early 1900s.
Waller was a prolific jazz entertainer and comedian in the 1920s through the early 1940s. “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” is a combination of musical numbers composed of jazz, blues and swing.
Essential Theatre has decided to expand the cast from its original five to nine, who play themselves. Kimberly Harding, a theater professor, said the theater wanted to give more students a chance to perform.
“There is the original cast of five principal characters, but we’ve added a chorus of four singers and dancers,” Harding said.
Kimberly Hicks, 18, a theatre performance student from New Port Richey, Fla., is making her debut performance for the Essential Theatre. “I think the audience can get an entirely new perspective on what a musical is because of the fact that there is not very much dialogue at all,” Hicks said. “We tell the story through music. My character is nothing like me, aside from having my name, but being her on stage is really fun.”
Hicks said preparing for a show of this magnitude is different from any other play she has ever done.
“The music rehearsals were a vital part of this production,” Hicks said. “Not to say that they aren’t in any other musical, but learning what seems like a text book of songs was a little challenging, yet fun at the same time.”
Costume, hair and makeup also play a major role in making a musical successful. Edith Carnley, a theater professor and lead costume designer for “Ain’t Misbehavin,’ ” has had her team working since the beginning of the semester.
“We used bright colors in order to show the playfulness of the time period of this piece,” Carnley said.
Carnley said they are trying to bring the club atmosphere from the 1930s onto the stage.
“We have hair, clothes and makeup that represent what would be the club life of that time,” she said.
Harry Bryce, guest director and choreographer, who has directed “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” at other venues, returns for the second time for the production. Bryce decided to compose a story line for the show because, originally, it was just a musical revue without dialogue.
“I thought it was time to do something fresh with it,” Bryce said. “So I created a love triangle within those songs and developed a fresh, new “Ain’t Misbehavin.’ “
Bryce said he chose not to contemporize the show because the music is for all generations. “Even if you’re a hard core hip-hop artist or listener you still would enjoy this music,” he said.
The show is a reflection of a time when music and dance had a greater symbiosis going on. It’s a glimpse into what it was like during the Renaissance.
“We have forgotten about what makes us so great,” Bryce said. “Our contributions, like jazz music.”
Bryce said young people need to experience this type of music.
“It’s just an infectiously wonderful show and I think everyone will enjoy it,” he said.
“Ain’t Misbehavin'” opens Friday at 8 p.m. in the Charles Winter Wood Theater. Other show dates are Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. The show is free to FAMU students with a valid ID, $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for students with children. Essential Theatre is located in Tucker Hall. For more information, call 850-561-2425.