What do Ain’t Misbehavin, Othello, The Seagull, Glengarry Glen Ross, Top Girls and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz have in common? Aside from being the 2013-14 theatre line-up for the Segal Centre, they all revolve around the deadly themes of power and passion.
The broadway production, Ain’t Misbehavin’, was conceived in 1988 by the veteran radio broadcaster Murray Horwitz, as a musical revue paying tribute to black musicians of the 1920s and ‘30s Harlem Renaissance, especially the zing and swing of Fats Waller’s musical genius.
The Harlem Renaissance was an era of burgeoning creativity and cultural awareness, where hundreds of years of oppression and persecution were expressed through the new sassy and sizzling beats of swing at infamous nightclubs such as The Cotton Club and The Savoy Ballroom. Waller was one of the pioneers of influential jazz music at that time and composed Ain’t Misbehavin in 1929, a song that would not only etch the beginnings of his fame but also the framework for an era long gone.
Now the Segal Centre, in conjunction with Copa de Oro Productions, is bringing Montrealers back to a more bumpin’ time with Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical Show, directed by the award-winning Roger Peace. Although this play marks Peace’s 107th production as a writer, director and choreographer, what continues to stick out for him is that there is no plot-driven story.
“It’s a musical review, so we look at each song as its own little story and we build around that,” said Peace. “He [Waller] was a big star in those days in Harlem…where Harlem was Harlem for its speakeasies and the drugs in the dark nightclub corners.” Peace hinted that this aspect will be reflected in the musical as well.
“This joint is jumpin’/It’s really jumpin’/Come in cats an’ check your hats/I mean this joint is jumpin’,” sings the five-cast ensemble dressed to the nines in zoot suits and shimmering dresses. In particular, cast member Aiza Ntibarikure really is jumpin’ high. A 2011 graduate from Dawson College’s professional theatre program, Ntibarikure hasn’t had a moment to settle down yet.
“I never thought I’d be working so hard so early upon graduating! But I consider myself lucky because I’m putting myself out there and following my bliss,” she said.
“Check your weapons at the door/be sure to pay your quarter/Burn your leather on the floor/grab anybody’s daughter,” solos the up-and-coming Jonathan Emile, wearing an impeccable fedora and matching white suit. For Emile, a local hip-hop artist who has collaborated with hip-hop superstars such as KRS1 and Kendrick Lamar, this will be his first professional performance.
“It’s just amazing to push the limits of my creativity and musical ability. Stepping into the theatre world just opens up the dimensions of what I can do,” says Emile, who’s proud to give back to his jazz roots by paying tribute to Waller. “Part of why I’m stepping into this is for my own personal growth…and plus this joint really is jumpin’.”
“I know for certain/The one I love/I through with flirtin’/It’s just you I’m thinking of/Ain’t misbehaving/ I’m saving my love for you.”
This song always invokes a strong feeling of nostalgia in Peace, who advocates that anyone interested in jazz will share in this feeling as well.
“I hope the audience will get into it because Montreal has always been big on jazz, and unfortunately you can’t hear these songs on the radio anymore. The history is in the music, and the music is right here at the Segal Centre.”
Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs at the Segal Centre from Sept. 29 to Oct. 20.