SALT LAKE CITY — 547 days. That is how long Pioneer Theatre Company went without a live, in-person production. Now, they’ve opened their doors with a stunning, must-see production of Ain’t Misbehavin’: The ‘Fats’ Waller Musical Show, directed by Gerry McIntyre and William Knowles. Rather than a plot-based musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue full of gorgeous Manhattan nightclub music of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Five Equity actors and seven orchestra members, including the phenomenal music director, Knowles, made this plotless production a show that kept me on the edge of my seat. Turns out you don’t need a plot to keep your audience wondering what’s coming next.
Just because the show wasn’t necessarily written with a plot in mind doesn’t mean there wasn’t a story to the production. Jo Winiarski’s scenic design, Sarita Fellows’ costume design, and Calvin Anderson’s lighting design all came together brilliantly to create a stage that was ever-changing. Not to spoil the show, but by the end of the first act, it really felt like I was sitting in a New York theater in the early 20th century, listening to some fantastic live music. And to be fair, I was actually listening to some fantastic live music. The point is that from the very moment I walked into the theater, I was captivated by what was on stage, and throughout the whole show, I kept thinking, “What role does the lighting play in the story?” It just kept changing in the most interesting ways. And I know this is something I come out of a lot of shows saying, but I really wish I owned every coat seen on that stage.
Sound Designer Aaron Hubbard and Live Audio Engineer Micah Lambert Maxson should also be recognized; for a show so focused on music, the sound was mixed perfectly. There was never a moment I couldn’t hear every voice and instrument at exactly the right level.
Of course, I cannot forget the cast. There was not a single weak link in the show. Rarely do I get to see performers with such impressive control of their voices or with the ability to blend so well. During every song, I would think, “Oh, surely this is the best piece in the show,” and then the next song would start, and I would think, “Oh, surely this is the best piece in the show,” and over and over until the play had come to an end.
The number that will most likely stay with me for a long time was, “The Viper’s Drag.” It was such a great combination of every element of the show. The way the lighting, choreography, costuming, ensemble, lighting, band, choreography, lighting, and use of the full stage all came together was just incredible. Tyrick Wiltez Jones is an astounding dancer and has a fantastic voice to boot. And the other four singers, while technically singing backup, did such a good job of maintaining a huge role in the song. Did I mention how much I loved the lighting in this number?
The other most memorable numbers, in order of appearance: “Honeysuckle Rose,” performed by DeMone Seraphin and Terita Redd; “Squeeze Me,” performed by Mariah Lyttle; “How Ya Baby,” performed by Jones, Tyla Collier, and company; “Mean to Me,” performed by Redd; and, “Find Out What They Like,” performed by Lyttle and Redd. And I cannot for the life of me remember what song it was in, but at some point Michale Evans had a stunning trombone solo.
I loved Ain’t Misbehavin’ so much. In general, I am loving being able to see live shows again, as safely as is currently possible. But this musical was certainly one of the best I have seen so far in 2021, if not the best. Congratulations to Pioneer and everyone involved in their first live, in-person show in a long time. Good job. The use of chandeliers will stick with me for years to come.