When NJPAC and Crossroads Theatre Company needed a director for their upcoming co-production of Ain’t Misbehavin‘, they landed an artist who says the show is part of his “performing DNA.”
André De Shields, the two-time Tony Award nominee and Emmy-winning actor, was an original cast member of Ain’t Misbehavin‘ when it opened on Broadway in 1978 and swept up a few Tonys, including best musical. Nicknamed “the Fats Waller musical,” Ain’t Misbehavin’ sashays into NJPAC’s Victoria Theater for six performances between February 1-4.
The show was conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz.
Check out the photos below from the designer run.
In the past, De Shields has circled back to the show as a director-choreographer and a mentor to those who don the pinstriped suit and bowler hat of the character he created. Ain’t Misbehavin’ “left a cookie on my soul,” says the Baltimore native, comparing his affinity for the musical to an everlasting imprint.
Marshall Jones III, Producing Artistic Director of Crossroads Theatre Company, came up with the idea of reuniting De Shields with the show for a run during his theater’s 2011-12 season. Crossroads, the recipient of an outstanding regional theater Tony, is currently on the move, staging its Afrocentric productions at different venues, including NJPAC, until the completion of a new performing arts complex in New Brunswick.
“No one on this planet understands and appreciates this show better than André,” says Jones, who refers to him as “a vital treasure.” “He’s been involved since its inception and the last time we produced the show, it was clear that his vision successfully captured the music and the culture of Fats Waller, and the historic time of his music.”
That time would be the Harlem Renaissance. Set in a smoky jazz club of the ’20s and ’30s, Ain’t Misbehavin’ features a cast of five singer-dancers who unroll back-to-back blues, soul and honky-tonk numbers by stride pianist Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller and other composers of the era. In addition to the title tune, the score includes “Black and Blue,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Ladies Who Sing with the Band” and “The Viper’s Drag” (The Reefer Song), the last being De Shields’ mesmerizing reptilian solo, inspired by Eastern dance. TV viewers of the Seventies are likely to recall commercials of the effervescent, late Nell Carter belting “The Joint Is Jumpin’,” the Act One closer.
The cast includes Johmaalya Adelekan (Ragtime), Zurin Villanueva (Mean Girls and Shuffle Along), Rheaume Crenshaw (Groundhog Day), David Samuel (Ruined, Arena Stage), Borris York (Holiday Inn; Love Never Dies, U.S. tour), and musical direction from David Alan Bunn.
“(Cast members) take over the exquisite job of sharing not only the genius of Fats Waller with the world, but also the gift of American classical music, which is jazz … there’s so much in Ain’t Misbehavin’ that is a teaching moment beyond being a performer in a successful show. There is American history in that show, which is, of course, the Harlem Renaissance, De Shields says.
“I’m definitely going to leave my stamp on the choreography, as I did in the 2011 production,” he continues, then elaborates on the part he played. “Because the character requires mystery, I’m going to keep the elements of Balinese dance … and when you see those undulating fingers and those gyrating hips, and you can’t associate it with anything that’s familiar to Western culture, it helps to sell the moment of ‘The Viper’s Drag’ (The Reefer Song).”
Ain’t Misbehavin’ will be performed in NJPAC’s Victoria Theatre from Thursday February 1 to Sunday, February 4. NJPAC is located at 1 Center Street in the heart of Newark’s Arts District. The Center has convenient parking and mass transit options. For tickets, please visit http://www.njpac.org/events/detail/aint-misbehavin or call 1.888.GO.NJPAC.
Video edited by Garth Kravits.
In his half-century artistic career, André De Shields has distinguished himself as an unparalleled actor, director, choreographer and educator. Mr. De Shields’ numerous accolades include an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance, the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award, the Black Theatre Network’s 2016 Winona Lee Fletcher Award, and nine AUDELCO Awards. His body of work includes Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theater, feature films, television, and more. A multiple Tony Award nominee, Mr. De Shields is best known for his show stopping performances in six legendary Broadway productions: Impressionism (with Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen); the world premiere of Mark Medoff’s Prymate (Drama Desk nomination); The Full Monty, for which he received Tony, Drama Desk and Astaire Award nominations; Play On! (Tony nomination); Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Drama Desk nomination) and The Wiz (title role).
Highlights of Johmaalya Adelekan’s credits include Broadway (Ragtime), Off-Broadway (Tintypes) and national tours (Les Miserables, Martin Guerre and more). Adelekan has also been featured in various concerts and voiceover work. She is a graduate of both The Boston Conservatory (BFA, Musical Theater) and James Madison University (BS, Sociology).
Zurin Villanueva can be seen in Mean Girls, the musical coming to the August Wilson Theatre later this year. Other credits include a Broadway appearance in Shuffle Along, as well as national tour appearances in Book of Mormon and Nobody’s Perfect.
Rheaume Crenshaw’s Broadway credits include Groundhog Day and Amazing Grace, as well as Off-Broadway appearances in Alternating Currents (Working Theater) and regional theater appearances in Smokey Joe’s Café (FLMTF/MGR), Golem of Havana (Miami New Drama/Barrington Stage/LaMama), Raisin (St. Black Repertory Co.), and more.
David Samuel graduated with his MFA in Acting from Brown University/Trinity Rep where, in addition to training as an actor, he filmed a documentary on The Red Terror in his family’s native country of Ethiopia. His theater credits include Twelfth Night, As You Like It (Classic Stage), Endangered Species (Drama League) To Kill A Mockingbird, Blues For Mr. Charlie (Trinity Rep), Ruined (Arena Stage), and more.
About Crossroads Theatre Company
Crossroads Theatre Company continues to lead the nation with its commitment to literary works that examine the African American experience so that it may be understood and appreciated by all people. When co-founders Ricardo Khan and L. Kenneth Richardson envisioned a space where, as actors, the two young men could work on substantive, non-stereotypical roles, little did they realize that their vision would grow into the major institution that it is today. Crossroads has filled an otherwise empty space on the cultural canvas of the country and the world, with a collective body of work that remains unparalleled by any other of culturally-specific theater in the nation by presenting over 50 world premieres. Crossroads forged its vision into reality through the development, production and touring of new works from throughout the African Diaspora where positive images of African American life, history and culture is celebrated. These honest theatrical portrayals helped move the consciousness of the nation forward. Crossroads continues to lead twenty-first century story-telling by building bridges of understanding and veracity between people of all backgrounds in this society and the world. Find out more at CrossroadsTheatreCompany.org.
New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), located in downtown Newark, N.J., is America’s most diverse performing arts center, and the artistic, cultural, educational and civic center of New Jersey, where Great Performances and events enhance and transform lives every day. NJPAC brings diverse communities together, providing access to all and showcasing the state’s and the world’s best artists while acting as a leading catalyst in the revitalization of its home city. Through its extensive Arts Education programs, NJPAC is shaping the next generation of artists and arts enthusiasts. NJPAC has attracted nearly 10 million visitors (including over 1.5 million children) since opening its doors in 1997, and nurtures meaningful and lasting relationships with each of its constituents.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.
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