Sometimes plot just gets in the way. "Ain't Misbehavin'," at New Stage Theatre through June 20, highlights the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller—a strong personality—with the sexy backdrop of Harlem cotton clubs and jazz spots in the swing era.
"It's not a plot-driven show," says guest director Peppy Biddy. "There's really no plot at all—the theme is just Fats Waller's music. She says there are no individual characters in the show—the show captures the personality of Waller through his music, and all five actors collectively represent Fats Waller." Those five actors are Rhonda Chambers, To'Nia Gray, Alisha Harris, Reuben Tapp and Darius Williams.
Biddy, a professor at Mississippi University for Women, and Sheilah Walker, an artist from Dallas, are enthusiastic about the show, their actors and being guests here in Jackson. "This is our full-time job right now," Biddy says. "It's intense." With a set modeled after the Savoy, an old jazz club in Harlem, and a six-piece live jazz band conducted by music director Walker, the show should certainly capture that jazz-era feel.
When I walked into the rehearsal room at New Stage, the young, energetic actors were working on the title number. They nearly knocked me over with the power of their voices. "It was a lengthy audition process," says Walker with a smile. "We chose who we cast as much on their individual personas as their vocal talent." They must have been cast for their stamina, as well—in the mere three weeks they have to rehearse the show, the actors are learning more than 30 songs, and putting in more than 40 hours of rehearsal time each of those three weeks.
New Stage, Mississippi's only not-for-profit professional regional theater, is ending their current season with "Ain't Misbehavin'." With such a talented cast and crew and songs that, in Walker's words, "are complex, layered, and range from joyful to somber," New Stage is sure to end their season on a high note. The show runs June 8-20 at New Stage Theatre in Belhaven. Call 948-3531 for tickets.
This weekend, you can also enjoy "A (K)Night of One Acts," the Black Rose Theatre Company's annual summer one-act offering, named in tribute to the beleaguered knight that serves as their mascot. Featured this year are three one-acts: "Next," a tale of auditions; "Are We There Yet?" a show about an older couple reminiscing on their anniversary; and an original, unscripted play called "Dearly Departed."
Denise Blake-Dailey, president of the Black Rose board of directors, says the summer production provides new directors a chance to try directing, and occasionally also provides an opportunity for new or experimental theatre projects. See the result June 10, 11, 12 & 13 at the Black Rose Theatre Company in Brandon. Call 825-1293.