Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of The Lion King
Manatee Players brings us a mostly quite wonderful version featuring a solid cast, directed by Kristofer Geddie and music directed by William Coleman. It gives truth to the first act closer, "The Joint is Jumpin'." Mr. Geddie has brought a fresh directorial eye to our evening. In the past the show has been a parade of numbers, without an arc beyond the connection to Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller (1904-1943). In the program's "Director's Notes," Geddie explains his vision, emphasizing the connection to the Harlem Renaissance and specifically at a rent party. This allows for some pieces of furniture and a bar with a couple of stools as a set, but the concept is never all that clear. What Mr. Geddie does contribute is an ability to get tremendous performances from each member of his cast, assisted by the fine musical preparation and leading from the piano by Mr. Coleman, who breathes the period style.
The five performers work with each other superbly, so that ensembles such as the opening medley of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Looking Good but Feelin' Bad," "Handful of Keys," and the tight harmonies of "Black and Blue" are all solidly delivered. At the performance I attended, the women had some vocal difficulty with "Jitterbug Waltz," but the rapidly chromatic movements of this song are a challenge. Andrea "Ladybugg" Coleman, daughter of the music director certainly demonstrates that often apples do not fall far from the tree that gave them life. She has the highest female part. Her solo number "Squeeze Me" is well done and several of her duets really show her off.
The youngest cast member, Astrid Victoria McIntyre shows off a beautiful voice and great stage presence and brings a girlish quality to "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" that reminded me of what the very young Barbra Streisand did with the song on her first solo album. Javisha Strong, recently seen in Oh, Freedom, inherits the part that won Nell Carter her Tony Award and it proves to be the same breakout for her that it was for the late Carter. Ms. Strong's talents just explode in this production. She solos on "Mean to Me" and shows a fine emotional range, but doesn't quite make me forget favorite performances that will always stay in my ear. Its in numbers like "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Cash for Your Trash," and "Its a Sin to Tell a Lie" where she owns the stage.
The male cast consists of Timothy Letheic Goins and, joining his Oh, Freedom castmate Javisha Strong, Nellson Jacobs-Moore. Mr. Goins is the strongest dancer in the cast. He is all over "The Viper's Drag," his big solo in act two, and just amazing all through the show. Mr. Jacobs-Moore's bio states that he "is thrilled to be doing this show again!," and I'm thrilled to be able to see his commanding presence in the part. He has himself a field day with "Your Feet's Too Big."
Set design by Caleb Carrier is in line with Kristopher Geddie's vision. Tara Cole's costume design is gorgeous, so true to the period, and Patrick Bedell imaginatively lights the show in a variety of stage colors.
Manatee Players' Ain't Misbehavin', through April 7, 2019, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, call 941-748-0111 or visit manateeplayers.com.