Stage North is a relatively new theater company, this is only their third production after launching in the Fall of 2021 and Ain’t Misbehavin’ is its first musical production. Stage North, based in the Capri Theater, is the only professional theater company on the Northside of Minneapolis. The Capri Theater which was built in 1927 and renovated 1921, is a wonderful little theater that is trying to establish a place for the community to come and experience art. The world today is a very difficult environment for established theatre companies and it’s even harder for new companies. Here is a great new company that has produced three fantastic shows in a row but the performance I saw was criminally under attended. Kudos to the amazing cast who performed as if it was a sold out theater. The show is packed with soulful dance moves, toe tappin songs, humor, and amazingly talented artists on and off stage.
This isn’t what we usually think of as a musical, there is no storyline it’s more along the lines of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, in that it’s a musical revue but instead of the songs of Leiber and Stoller, this features the songs of American Jazz composer Fats Waller. Though there is no storyline per se, that doesn’t mean the performers just get up and sing one song after another, in fact each song is like a mini story in itself. The actors play different characters and scenarios with each song and even when they’re not part of a given song, the actors contribute with reactions and looks. Favorite songs include “Mean to Me” which is more somber, is heartbreakingly performed by Angela Stewart. “The Viper’s Drag” is strange and a humorously staged song about marijuana that provides Kevin Brown Jr. a chance to play a hilariously ‘high’ performer. “Yacht Club Swing” has Kia Brown performing like a vocally challenged woman to comedic effect, a characterization she disproves throughout the rest of the show. “Squeeze Me” has Cornisha Garmon vamping it up in a wonderfully sultry manner. Len Jones performs “Your Feet’s Too Big” which is so silly and wonderful you can’t hardly believe it’s a real song. All five performers get a chance to show off their vocal chops and they are all incredible singers. They’re all equally gifted in their physical performances as well, both their facial expressions and comedic delivery along with their execution of the choreography.
The Director and Choreographer is the hardest working woman in theater, Austene Van, who apparently simultaneously choreographed The Defeat of Jesse James at the History Theatre, directed Lady Day at Yellow Tree Theatre, which she also happens to run, while preparing this show. I imagine she also sewed the costumes and painted the sets for a couple of other shows around town. What a talented artist she is. Here her gifts for staging and movement really come to the forefront. “The Viper’s Drag” being a perfect illustration in that we have a surprising appearance of a character in a highly (pun intended) unexpected location, across the theater you have the rest of the cast sitting at a table doing there best to also play into the theme of the song. Van isn’t content to only give Kevin Brown Jr. the spotlight and have him perform this song, which would have been enough. She utilizes the rest of the cast to pull us into the moment making it that much more effective. The physicality and logic of Brown’s movements in retrieving his dropped joint at the end is just so perfectly realized. The Music Director and Pianist in the band on stage is Sanford Moore who seamlessly blends the songs one into the other, his band is tight in the way a jazz band has to be to pull off that loose improvisational feel. The set design by Robin Macintyre, lighting design by Sue Berger, and the costumes by Joe Burch all help to bring the setting of The Shim Sham Club circa 1931, to glorious life.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a fun fast paced musical revue that will have your toe tappin and a smile across your face for it’s entire runtime. I urge everyone to get out and see this one while you can it runs through June 4th, for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://stagenorthmpls.org/.
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