By Jacqueline Monahan
Wednesday, July 7 was both Media and Military Night for Super Summer Theatre’s presentation of Ain’t Misbehavin’, a thirty song retrospective of composer Thomas “Fats” Waller’s career, with tunes spanning an era from 1925-1943. The Theatre is now in its 35th season.
Those who’ve never been to Spring Mountain Ranch will notice that the open air stage is surrounded by what looks like one large blanketed picnic area; chairs may be rented for $1.00. A reasonably priced concession stand means you can nosh the night away, but picnic baskets are always welcome and more than a few wine glasses are produced during the course of an evening. Shoes, of course, are optional.
A production typically begins around sundown, usually 8:00 p.m., and launches seamlessly into the evening, either with a movement on stage or a musical interlude.
On this night, a solitary player piano takes up center stage. The keys play themselves from programmed rolls and the songs are modern and anachronistic – selections by Britney Spears, The Monkees, Chicago, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears spill out with a ragtime flavor that sets an anticipatory mood among the crowd.
Then there’s the sweet, self-explanatory “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” and the strip-tease-like arrangement of “That Ain’t Right,” ” Well, you know I always told ya, that you'd be the death of me? And when I'm always with ya, I get the third degree! Now that ain’t right.”
Marie is able to hit high notes as if she comes from on high herself. Singing the coquettish “Squeeze Me” and the plaintive “When the Nylons Bloom Again” (about WWII rationing) the vocalist draws the audience into her space and makes it look easy. Marie also captures the period evocatively in her costumes.
Stewart (still in high school) inhabits a small frame with a paradoxically large voice, suitable for “Yacht Club Swing,” and “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” The versatile singer is already a master of many styles, and the girl (as imagined in the words of Fats Waller himself) “ain’t even graduated yet.”
Coleman’s deep, booming bass (yes, he can sing opera as well) brings out the elegant in a song, with the absurd following right behind. This quality makes “Your Feet’s Too Big,” “Lounging at the Waldorf,” and The Ladies Who Sing with the Band” his singular stash of vocal pearls, wildly different yet strung on the same necklace and handsomely displayed on stage.
Thirty songs go by seamlessly as the mood changes from saucy to somber to playful. Voices go deep and sail high amid brass beats accompanied by eighty-eight ivory keys rising and falling with a fast flourish. The finale is a virtual party with the performers and the band going full tilt with a number called “Fats Waller and his Rhythm.” A spotlight captures the singers one last time before the boisterous stage goes dark and silent, but then the standing ovations begin.
Although Waller himself died on a train (pneumonia, 1943) the continued success of Ain’t Misbehavin’ has proved that his musical tracks at least, are immortal and after all these years, still pleasing to a new generation’s ears.
About Super Summer Theatre ’10:
Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the gate, and can be purchased at the UNLV Performing Arts Box Office, Prestige Travel at Lake Mead and Rampart, or online at unlvtickets.com.
Guests may bring a blanket or chair for use in general-admission grass seating, suitable for enjoying a picnic or treats from the concession stand.
Gates open at 6 p.m. Performances run Thursday through Saturday beginning at 8 p.m. Spring Mountain Ranch is located 10 miles west of the Charleston/215 exit. The final show for the 2010 Season is author Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, which will run from September 9 - 25.
For further information:
(702) 594-PLAY (7529).