Review: Ain't Misbehavin' Is a Rocking Party With a Special Delivery

Rajdulari and Mary Louise Lee in Ain't Misbehavin'.
Rajdulari and Mary Louise Lee in Ain't Misbehavin'. Gary Duff
Krisangela Washington, one of the stars of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, delivered a baby — not due until August — the Tuesday following opening weekend. The baby was early but healthy, and Washington returned to the show two days later. She is still lighting up the stage with her fine voice, synchronized moves and swift-flying scat-singing, joined in this electrifying Fats Waller medley by four other star-quality performers: Leonard Barrett Jr., Randy Chalmers, Mary Louise Lee and Rajdulari.

There’s no specific storyline, but a theme emerges as song follows song: such well-known favorites as “Ain’t Misbehavin’," "‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint Is Jumpin’,” “Two Sleepy People” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”; songs I’d never heard before, including “Lookin’ Good but Feelin’ Bad” and “When the Nylons Bloom Again”; and niche-ish numbers you feel you sort of know from somewhere, like “The Viper’s Drag.” The underlying story is about the black experience in the early decades of the last century — and, perhaps, by extension, also these days when racism and exclusion are on the rise. The songs sometimes mock the difference between the kind of music black performers shared with wealthy white patrons (“Lounging at the Waldorf”) and the pieces they enjoyed among themselves: “Your Feet’s Too Big” and “Fat and Greasy.” Then there’s “Black and Blue,” a profound lament beautifully sung by the entire company: “Cold empty bed, springs hard as lead/Pains in my head, feel like old Ned/What did I do to be so black and blue?”

Not that the tone is preachy; the evening is ultimately a celebration of the humor and resilience of the community. Directed by Robert Wells, this is a rocking, jumping party, with the cast gorgeously outfitted in glittering sequins, clearly having a whale of a time and sharing their exuberance unstintingly with the audience. At the keyboard, Donna Kolpan Debreceni leads the seven-piece band with what seems to be pure joy.

Jazz singer Barrett, a Denver favorite, projects a knowing and worldly-wise persona. Chalmers, lithe and leaping, is a fine singer. Lee’s sophisticated phrasing and melodious ventures into the lower registers alternate with a powerful belt. Rajdulari is having such a glorious time that she can’t help sharing it with the audience, providing a warm touch to a knee or shoulder and inquiring, "Do you like my jewelry?" Of course we do. We like everything about her.

And Washington positively glows.  “My husband and I are overjoyed and so in love with our baby girl, Kennedy Grace,” Washington says. “She definitely made a grand entrance.”

It’s all here — old songs, enduring happiness and sorrow, new life. What more could you want?

Ain’t Misbehavin’, presented by the Town Hall Arts Center through June 17, 2450 West Main Street in Littleton, 303-794-2787,
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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman