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LISTEN TO THE HEART OF HARLEM

January 24, 2013 12:10 am

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Oh, behave: Theresa Cunningham, Brandon Martin and Kadejah One star in the small cast. we0124riverside15.jpg

Kadejah One is no stranger to Riverside, having appeared in 'Dreamgirls' a few years ago. we0124riverside12.jpg

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Jerrial Young (center) joins his fellow cast members in one of the production's many musical numbers. In 'Ain't Misbehavin',' the performers use their actual names. we0124riverside9.jpg

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Sing it loud: Kadejah One (left), Theresa Cunningham and Kimberly Knight star in Riverside Dinner Theater's latest musical production 'Ain't Misbehavin'.' we0124riverside4.jpg

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BY JESSE SCOTT

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

With a name like Fats, you'd better deliver something big.

During his 39 short years on this Earth, jazz singer Fats Waller was simply larger than life.

He was an African-American cultural icon. He composed more than 400 original songs including "Jitterbug Waltz" and "Honeysuckle Rose." He paved the way for some of the most renowned jazz artists of his time. And in 1993, nearly 50 years after his death, Waller was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Waller's legacy is alive and well in 2013. "Ain't Misbehavin'," a Broadway-style musical revue, showcases the jazz singer's biggest hits and takes audiences on a musical journey of Waller's vivacious, soul-filled catalog.

"Ain't Misbehavin'" will own the stage at Riverside Dinner Theater, Wednesdays through Sundays, until March 10.

"[Waller] speaks to each and every one of us, where we can understand it," said Patti D'Beck, director of the production and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "He was such an amazing performer and his music won the love of the American public. He was a contagious, larger-than-life individual and you can really feel it through his art."

"Ain't Misbehavin'" first burst into the national spotlight in 1978. The revue was a smash on Broadway for more than 1,500 performances, thanks to the captivating, Tony Award-winning vocals of Nell Carter.

In Riverside's rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'," New Orleans native Kadejah One takes on Carter's prized role.

"Mr. Waller used chords that we simply don't use today," said One, a former lead actress in "Dreamgirls" at Riverside. "You hear diminished chords, augmented chords all so close together. It really took a lot of practicing."

Among the many songs that One belts out in the production are "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling" and "Mean to Me." The full cast of "Ain't Misbehavin'" features only five total members, meaning each singer carries quite a vocal load. The focus is on their vocals and their actual names--unlike most shows, the actors in "Ain't Misbehavin'" have no character names, but use their own.

"The small cast situation has really been one of the most delightful experiences of my career," said One. "We became a family very quickly when it really can go the other way. The other side is that often you're the only person singing your notes--you have to be on it."

While "Ain't Misbehavin'" is clearly about the music, it carries a bit more meaning. It's all about capturing the magical essence of 1930s and '40s jazz. This particular rendition features vibrant costumes, captivating choreography and a stage that truly gets the audience involved.

"We stuck with a very vague time period we didn't want to pin the revue to a certain year," said D'Beck. "We wanted to honor the jazz experience and truly present our cast. We use one set with a simple platform and footlights that brings the cast out and really into the audience. It's a very intimate experience."

The simple set often features a grand piano--a staple of Waller's--and a giant portrait of the jazz legend himself. It's a perfect backdrop for a powerful set of nearly 40 songs over the span of two hours.

"It's a visual that people can relate to," said D'Beck. "As a cast, we really feel like his spirit is right there with us in that room."

Since opening on Jan. 18, "Ain't Misbehavin'" has been nothing short of a hit. It's been so warmly received that the theater has invited one of the original creators of the revue, Murray Horowitz, to come check it out.

"The audiences so far have been up on their feet and humming along. It really is an interactive show," said Patrick A'Hearn, associate artistic director for Riverside Dinner Theater. "It all goes back to the comfort that people find in these songs. People are really identifying with it."

Jesse Scott is a freelance writer and Fredericksburg native. Email him at
Email: jesserobertscott@gmail.com.




What: "Ain't Misbehavin'" Where: Riverside Dinner Theater, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg When: Wednesdays to Sundays through March 10 Cost: $40-$60 Info: 540/370-4300; riversidedt.com



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