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By Jacqueline Monahan

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Super Summer Theatre Brings Ain’t Misbehavin’ to Spring Mountain Ranch

Wednesday, July 7 was both Media and Military Night for Super Summer Theatre’s presentation of Ain’t Misbehavin’, a thirty song retrospective of composer Thomas “Fats” Waller’s career, with tunes spanning an era from 1925-1943. The Theatre is now in its 35th season.

Those who’ve never been to Spring Mountain Ranch will notice that the open air stage is surrounded by what looks like one large blanketed picnic area; chairs may be rented for $1.00. A reasonably priced concession stand means you can nosh the night away, but picnic baskets are always welcome and more than a few wine glasses are produced during the course of an evening. Shoes, of course, are optional.
 
View from the Stage

Surrounded by mountains this area resembles a scenic bowl of greenery, filled with appreciative audiences and staged performances under the stars. Of course you’ll share the experience with moths and bats, who take advantage of the bright lights to flit around the stage along with the performers.

A production typically begins around sundown, usually 8:00 p.m., and launches seamlessly into the evening, either with a movement on stage or a musical interlude.

On this night, a solitary player piano takes up center stage. The keys play themselves from programmed rolls and the songs are modern and anachronistic – selections by Britney Spears, The Monkees, Chicago, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears spill out with a ragtime flavor that sets an anticipatory mood among the crowd.
 
Player Piano
 
After a while, a musician in bowler hat, suspenders, and sleeve garters (musical director Nancy West) takes her place at the piano keys, facing away from the audience, and begins to play an upbeat overture. The large stage features an arch made up of piano keys, vibrant, colorful lighting, and a recessed, seven-piece band on a moving, tiered platform, providing woodwinds, brass, and percussion.
 
The Show Begins

Beginning with the titular, recognizable, Ain’t Misbehavin’, sung by the entire five-person company, the three women and two men that comprise the cast sing and dance through thirty songs with one costume change and a whole lot of attitude. Waller may have been fat, (285 lbs.) but he was also sassy, a fact that is reflected in his lyrics.
 
In the Swing of Things 
 
A Waller composition may contain romantic, humorous, bawdy, insulting, and downright rude scenarios. For example, "‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do” declares “I feed my wife baloney. I don’t pay no alimony. ‘Tain’t nobody’s biz-ness if I do. “Find Out What They Like” cautions women, “You got to cater to a man and if you don't, day and night, he'll find some other gal to do the things you won't.” The seductive, smoke-filled Viper’s Drag, "I'm the king of everything.  Got to get high before I sing. Sky is high, ever'body's high if you're a viper…”
 
Wallace Broadnax Performs Viper's Drag
 
The hilarious “Fat and Greasy” encourages the audience to shout out those two adjectives about “a big, fat greasy fool” and the collective, bluesy wail of Black and Blue tells us, “I'm so forlorn, life's just a thorn. My heart is torn. Why was I born? What did I do to be so black and blue?”

Then there’s the sweet, self-explanatory “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” and the strip-tease-like arrangement of “That Ain’t Right,” ” Well, you know I always told ya, that you'd be the death of me? And when I'm always with ya, I get the third degree! Now that ain’t right.”
 
Dominique Stewart and Wallace Broadnax

Already dressed in early twentieth century finery including boas, hats, zoot suits and spats, the performers (Buffie Lucas, Rachele Marie, Dominique Stewart, Barron Coleman, and Wallace Broadnax) took the stage either in a solo duet or collectively to wail, croon or belt out the variety of compositions that emerged from Waller’s pen and keyboard during his musical reign.
 
Wailin' Some Waller

Lucas is big and beautiful, with a clear velvet voice to match. Her rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose” (with Coleman) and “Cash for your Trash” showcased a considerable vocal talent, whether romantic or comedic, that made her an audience favorite.

Marie is able to hit high notes as if she comes from on high herself. Singing the coquettish “Squeeze Me” and the plaintive “When the Nylons Bloom Again” (about WWII rationing) the vocalist draws the audience into her space and makes it look easy. Marie also captures the period evocatively in her costumes.

Stewart (still in high school) inhabits a small frame with a paradoxically large voice, suitable for “Yacht Club Swing,” and “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” The versatile singer is already a master of many styles, and the girl (as imagined in the words of Fats Waller himself) “ain’t even graduated yet.”
 
Rachele Marie (top), Dominique Stewart, and Buffie Lucas
 
Broadnax is a lean mean singing machine in a tan, pinstriped zoot suit. His tenor voice and good-time Charlie demeanor spiced up Waller’s “How Ya Baby” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” (a duet with Lucas). He’s capable of commanding the stage all by his (very) tall self or sharing it with cast mates as a striking contrast in image and sound.

Coleman’s deep, booming bass (yes, he can sing opera as well) brings out the elegant in a song, with the absurd following right behind. This quality makes “Your Feet’s Too Big,” “Lounging at the Waldorf,” and The Ladies Who Sing with the Band” his singular stash of vocal pearls, wildly different yet strung on the same necklace and handsomely displayed on stage.
 
Barron Coleman (right) Leads the Company

 Some numbers make you want to close your eyes and soak in the words, like “Two Sleepy People” or “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.” Some make you sit up straight in your seat like “That Ain’t Right” and some will make you want to get into the swing of things yourself with “The Joint is Jumpin’” or “Fat and Greasy.”

Thirty songs go by seamlessly as the mood changes from saucy to somber to playful. Voices go deep and sail high amid brass beats accompanied by eighty-eight ivory keys rising and falling with a fast flourish. The finale is a virtual party with the performers and the band going full tilt with a number called “Fats Waller and his Rhythm.” A spotlight captures the singers one last time before the boisterous stage goes dark and silent, but then the standing ovations begin.
 
Finale
 
Ain’t Misbehavin’s Producer/Director and Georgia native Terrence R. Williams has worked with Cirque du Soleil, Time Warner, and Six Flags Entertainment. He recently produced the Las Vegas premiere of Shear Madness and continues to produce FREE BEER! The Improv Show, (currently at Town Square) soon to have a new home on the Las Vegas Strip.

Although Waller himself died on a train (pneumonia, 1943) the continued success of Ain’t Misbehavin’  has proved that his musical tracks at least, are immortal and after all these years, still pleasing to a new generation’s ears.

About Super Summer Theatre ’10:

Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the gate, and can be purchased at the UNLV Performing Arts Box Office, Prestige Travel at Lake Mead and Rampart, or online at unlvtickets.com.

Guests may bring a blanket or chair for use in general-admission grass seating, suitable for enjoying a picnic or treats from the concession stand.

Gates open at 6 p.m. Performances run Thursday through Saturday beginning at 8 p.m. Spring Mountain Ranch is located 10 miles west of the Charleston/215 exit. The final show for the 2010 Season is author Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, which will run from September 9 - 25.

For further information:
(702) 594-PLAY (7529).
http://www.supersummertheatre.com
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