The house lights dim and a warm wave of silence rushes over the audience. All eyes dart eagerly to the stage in collective anticipation — a sense of waiting that has lasted through each of the 547 days since Pioneer Theatre Company closed its doors. Karen Azenberg, artistic director of PTC, takes the stage and tearfully welcomes audiences back. We have waited, hoped and dreamt of this moment. Finally, we are here and, finally, live theatre is back.
A Warm Reunion
PTC’s first production back “Ain’t Misbehavin'” set the stage for a beautiful reunion. Understandably, there was a few technical hiccups here and there — a buzzing microphone, some volume issues, a finicky spotlight. It’s been almost two years and opening night is always a bit stressful. Regardless of the holdups however, the cast and crew of Broadway classic “Ain’t Misbehavin'” bravely and boldly took the stage and my breath away.
The five talented performers — Tyla Collier, Tyrck Wiltez Jones, Mariah Lyttle, Tertia Redd and DeMone Seraphin — begin the show by slowly entering, dressed head to toe in 1930s fashion with a 21st century addition of face masks. One by one, they each remove their masks, an opening picture that symbolizes the hardships of the past year and the hope of healing in the future.
As they began to perform the joyous and jazzy music of Thomas “Fats” Waller, it was clear there was still a bit of rust on the wheels. A certain passion and power was yet to be exposed in the brilliant performers. However, this passion and power could be seen on in each of them, just begging to burst through.
Just as quickly as I noticed this however, Seraphin and Redd took the spotlight with their soulful rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose.” It was here that DeMone approached the audience, and gracefully fighting through that pesky buzzing mic began to belt in a voice comparable to that of Orpheus. What was missing was quickly found as each cast member began to hit their stride.
Joyous, Jazzy, Enchanting.
While the show has no traditional dialogue or narrative, I was extremely impressed by the cast’s ability to add snippets of character in between the lyrics. An over-excited note followed by a sassy shush. A quip about the Utah altitude affecting their voices. An offering of a joint to an audience member. These small choices were simple, yet they made me fall in love with each character.
Whenever you would start to get comfortable, someone would swirl around the piano and recaptures your attention in full force. You’d see Wiltez Jones seductively snake up from an industrial laundry hamper and tempt you with a venomous and sultry tune, or Seraphin would pull you in with a hilarious song about a girl who’s “pedal extremities really are obnoxious.” There is no telling what’s going to happen next in “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and its relentlessly enchanting.
In all, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” is a delight, an absolutely charming tribute to Fats Waller’s music that will leave you smiling and tapping your toes. For the parched theatre lover who’s been trapped in the songless desert, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” offers an oasis and a reunion. Theatre is back! Let’s hope it sticks around this time.
“Ain’t Misbehavin'” is running at the Pioneer Theatre Company until Sept. 25.