- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

Things are supposed to slow down in summer, but you’d never know that at Olney, where all three theaters are going full force and parking spaces are at a premium. The latest offering is the bouncy musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’” from the National Players.

Director Devron Young leads five promising and exuberantly high-energy performers through the repertoire of Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller, the gifted pianist and composer of the 1920s and ‘30s whose hits “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint Is Jumpin’,” “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” are hummable to this day.

Olney’s Historic Stage is transformed into a Harlem nightclub from the 1930s, although the art-deco bandstand obscures the musicians so that it looks as if the score is being played by a bunch of disembodied heads — the kind of detail that keeps “Ain’t Misbehavin’” merely enjoyable rather than polished to a platinum shine.

The costumes by Pei Lee favor the model-thin performers, with Shaunte Corrina Tabb in a sassy and free-flowing hot pink frock, while the curvaceous Kelli Blackwell and Jesaira L. Glover wear what appear to be made-over mother-of-the-bride dresses. Why designers — other than Paul Tazewell — cannot figure out how to becomingly clad a wide variety of female body shapes is a mystery and, in this case, a crime. On the other hand, the men — slender Leanto E. Jones and the more substantial Curtis Bannister — look snappy in their sharply tailored plaid suits.

Miss Blackwell and Miss Glover rise above the unfortunate costumes to give powerhouse performances, lending their impressive pipes to a variety of song genres, from novelty ditties to sultry ballads. Miss Glover’s scatting in “Cash for Your Trash” and Miss Blackwell’s “Spreading Rhythm Around” are particularly notable.

Mr. Bannister’s deep voice lends presence to “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Black and Blue,” and he also pulls off the lighter moments in his gravelly, teasing delivery of “Fat and Greasy.” Most of the troupe’s dancing is awkward, but the athletic Mr. Jones performs a naughtily insinuating solo about the joys of weed in “The Viper’s Drag.”

Olney’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” will not evoke warm memories of Broadway productions past, which featured such high-octane performers as Nell Carter, Andre De Shields and Charlaine Woodard. It is more of a pleasant evening than a roof-raiser, which could be just right for a hot July night.

★★½

WHAT: “Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show,” conceived by Richard Maltby Jr.

WHERE: Historic Stage, Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 2.

TICKETS: $26

PHONE: 301/924-3400

WEB SITE: www.olneytheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STAR

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