The foot-stomping, roof-raising “Ain’t Misbehavin – The Fats Waller Musical Show,” opens at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, July 13. It’s an award-winning musical tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and ‘30s. Conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr., and Murray Horwitz, this production is directed by actress, singer, painter, producer and director Yvette Freeman (“Gee’s Bend,” NCRT and TV’s “ER,” “Orange is the New Black”), who has worked with NCRT Artistic Director David Ellenstein for many years.
“I’m very excited about this play,” Freeman said. “I ended up in ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ ’on Broadway and went on to star in stage productions with national and international companies. Theater is in my bones and I can still sing, but older now, I don’t do the dancing. I think younger people should be performing these shows and older people like me directing and sharing what we know about the business with the next generation.”
Based on the signature Fats Waller song, the musical returns audiences to the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance when the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom served as playgrounds for high society. Freeman said part of the show’s success is Julia Lehman’s choreography.
“Julia is an assistant to Arthur Faria, who created the original staging and choreography for the 1978 Tony Award-winning musical ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’,” she said. He received both the Tony and Drama Desk award nominations, and shared the Obie for the original production at the Manhattan Theatre Club. He recreated his work for the 10th anniversary Broadway revival starring the original cast. Faria will be at the show, as will Horwitz and some of the other contributors.
Freeman said she is also happy to work with her husband, music director Lanny Hartley. He studied music education at Indiana University and became an accomplished pianist, composer, director and teacher, garnering many awards. It was when he collaborated with Freeman on “Dinah Was” that they fell in love and got married.
“This music never seems to be dated because it’s so enjoyable. Why would I continue to work on something if it didn’t inspire people, as it does, from generation to generation? If you’re of the age of the songs, you remember where you were when they came out. If you are younger, you’ll hear words of poetry. Each song tells the story, and this is also the story of Fat Waller’s life. The story goes back to things in the old days that were shocking then, but are not these days,” Freeman said.
She boasted about the “wonderful” all-local cast, which she said she was glad to choose with Ellenstein’s help. “For 20 or 30 years or more, this show has made people happy. They have fun and just love it, so that’s what we expect for audiences here, as well,” Freeman said.
IF YOU GO: “Ain’t Misbehavin’ — The Fats Waller Musical Show,” runs July 13-Aug. 7 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets from $39. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org