Oh Behave!

Thomas Wesley Douglas and his troupe of five silky-voiced performers really got the joint jumpin’ last Thursday night, judging from the number of bopping heads and tapping feet in the audience. Watching Gardner & Wife’s latest offering, Fats Waller’s multiple award-winning musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, was akin to taking a journey back in time to Harlem in the swinging 30’s. And what an unforgettable journey the evening turned out to be.

The son of a preacher, Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller was a music man from the very beginning, learning to play the piano from an early age and going on to become a recording artiste at the age of 22. He composed more than 450 songs in his lifetime before succumbing to pneumonia while on board a train near Kansas City, Missouri. He was 43.

As Waller’s most successful musical to date, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a collection of 30 songs that include Waller’s own compositions as well as collaborative works along with tunes written by others that were made famous by him. These include the cheeky Squeeze Me, the pro-recycling Cash for Your Trash and the sultry Honeysuckle Rose. When asked about the style of music, musical director Douglas explained that it was essentially, “Swing and bop. The pre-cursor to jazz.”

Things got off to a rather subdued start, but the pace soon picked up as both the audience and performers warmed up to each other. Singing and dancing their way through this finger-snapping mishmash of delightful ditties are five talented African-American performers, namely C.C. Campbell, Dondre Greenhouse, Maurice Parent, Denise Powell and Khaliah Stallings. All five are seasoned stage actors with a slew of impressive credits under their collective belts.

A stage and screen actress, R&B and jazz singer and choreographer, the multi-talented Campbell shone on stage in a role that required her to sing in almost every number. Stallings, who just made her big screen debut in an independent film called, Blue Joy, was perfectly perky in Yacht Club Swing. Affable Greenhouse was hilarious in his rendition of Your Feet’s Too Big, while Parent was suitably sleazy in his slip-n-slide performance of The Viper’s Drag. This reviewer’s favourite song for the night was When the Nylons Bloom Again, an ode to the ubiquitous pantyhose sung by soprano, Powell.

The chemistry among the cast members was at its best when all five came together to sing the melancholy Black and Blue. Seeing them up on stage, it was hard to believe that this group, along with Douglas and the six local musicians that make up the band, only got together here in Kuala Lumpur. The performers had 10 days to run through the songs with each other while the band only went through five rehearsals!

With the recent double-whammy of large-scale musicals at KL’s lstana Budaya (Chang & Eng and Fame), it was a refreshing change to be able to experience something on a more intimate scale. The stage was minimalist, reminiscent all at once of a Harlem nightclub stage, a Harlem street, a 30’s radio and a giant jukebox, with a specially constructed platform for the musicians in the background and Douglas himself seated at the piano in the foreground. The ballroom at The Parkroyal Kuala Lumpur was divided into two sections, one for diners and, for the first time since they began hosting dinner theatre shows, another section for non-diners.

The food was excellent; a four-course Western set dinner with a special vegetarian menu that sounds just as nice at the non-vegetarian selection. Dessert, in the form of a New York cheesecake served with chocolate ginger ice cream, made for an ending that was as sweet as the show’s conclusion itself.


First Published: 02.07.2002 on Kakiseni

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