A Different Kind of Misbehavin’

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 6, 2022

New York Magazine called Ain’t Misbehavin’ the perfect Broadway musical when it premiered back in 1978, the show celebrating the music of Thomas “Fats” Waller and the joint is a jumpin’ scene of 1930s Harlem. Considered among the first major musical revues, Ain’t Misbehavin’ went on to win three Tony Awards, including best musical, and stake a place in America’s pantheon of classic theater. 

Among the 31 songs performed during the show are many of the early standards of the American jazz songbook, from “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Your Feet’s Too Big,” and “Black and Blue” to “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “The Jitterbug Waltz,” and the title song. 

In many ways, Ain’t Misbehavin’ might also be the perfect piece to serve as the premiere production under the aegis of Kirby and Beverly Ward, who just last month took over the role of Co-Artistic Directors of Rubicon Theatre Company (RTC) following the November 13 retirement of RTC co-founder Karyl Lynn Burns. The Fats Waller musical fits the RTC philosophy of treating new works as if they’re classics and classics as if they’re new works, Beverly Ward said, a vision that came courtesy of director Wren T. Brown, who makes his Rubicon debut. 

Brown, the Founder and Producing Artistic Director of the Los Angeles-based Ebony Repertory Theatre, conceived of a production that would fully embody the sense of celebration, freedom, and joy that made popular Harlem institutions like The Cotton Club – where his grandmother was a dancer – and The Savoy, the places to be almost a century ago. But instead of a performative piece inside the club, the action would take place at an uptown brownstone parlor where some of the most celebrated acts of the time would come together for a cocktail party.

“When Wren talked about that idea, Kirby and I just had that immediate feeling of, well of course this is what we should do,” Beverly Ward said. “We’re all here together enjoying each other’s company and the audience is really part of what’s going on. It might seem nuanced, and it’s all the same songs, but it has a very different feeling from the original.”

That feeling, Beverly said, relates to the most important factor for remaining faithful to the original vision for Rubicon. The Wards (who have been married for 37 years after meeting on stage during a youth theater group production of The Sound of Music) will endeavor to capture that same spirit developed by Burns and her husband, along with RTC’s other co-founder, James O’Neil, to produce theater full of heart and truth that is focused on great storytelling. 

“When we’ve been sitting in rehearsals, what keeps coming from the stage is a feeling of such warmth and joy,” Beverly said. “It’s very special.”

Rubicon’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ performs November 30-December 18 at its theater in Ventura. Call (805) 667-2900 or visit www.rubicontheatre.org.


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