Hep to the mezzrow
Cats are jump-jivin’ in Rancho Cordova, singing and swinging to the beats of Fats Waller. Ain’t Misbehavin’, the Broadway tribute to the jazz composer, has left Harlem, turned east at Sacramento, and continued up Highway 50 to find a welcome at Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre.
Garbeau’s presents its version of the musical montage honoring Fats Waller, the musician and composer that helped define African-American jazz and swing music during the Harlem Renaissance. Although this is far from the first time this finger-snappin’, toe-tappin’ musical has been produced locally, Garbeau’s makes it fresh by turning its dinner theater into a 1930s Harlem nightclub.
And it’s hard to tell who’s having more fun—the snazzy-jazzy singers and dancers, the jamming jive band or the audience caught up in the show’s riffs and rhythms. It helps that the talented 1930s-attired cast includes the audience in so many numbers, sashaying among the candle-lit tables while affectionately flirting with various flustered patrons.
The musical is all about Fats, but the big man of Harlem nightclubs and various speakeasies of his time is never portrayed. Rather it’s a collection of his tunes that capture a moment of time and place, a snapshot of history both proud and troublesome. The tunes reflect his diversity—sometimes fun, sometimes raucous and oftentimes naughty, but also thoughtful and melancholy at times.
The cast is infectious—full of sass and sauciness—as it belts out familiar numbers such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint Is Jumpin’,” “Mean to Me” and “Your Feet’s Too Big.” All the cast members are strong singers that salt the songs with engaging personalities. Standouts include the endearing vocal powerhouse Nikkema Taylor and the personable duo of Noah Hayes and Rayford White.
The show falters a bit because of its format; there’s no dialogue, just a lineup of songs, so it fails to pull you in emotionally. And because some of the numbers in the first act were rushed and not fully enunciated, it was hard to decipher the wonderful lyrics. But by the second act, the cast and band are in command, pulling you into the infectious world of swing riffs and jitterbug jams.
To give U.S. military families an emotional and financial break, Garbeau’s is offering almost half off on dinner-show packages to anyone who has a loved one serving overseas—$20 for the whole kit and caboodle.