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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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Ain’t Misbehavin’ to open Segal season

Tags: Arts
Kim Richardson

The Segal Centre will launch its 2013-2014 theatre season with the Tony Award-winning musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Fats Waller Musical Show, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz.

The play will run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 20.

Presented in Montreal for the first time in over 20 years, this classic jazz-age revue is being revived under the direction of Montreal theatre veteran Roger Peace and features a cast led by Kim Richardson and Toya Alexis.

Thomas “Fats” Waller rose to international fame during the golden days of the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom in the 1930s, when the nightclubs of New York were filled with piano players creating a sensation with their new swinging beat.

This triple Tony winner is a musical tribute to the legendary African-American jazz pianist and his iconic tunes that defined an era, like Honeysuckle Rose, The Joint is Jumpin’ and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.

Peace said audiences can expect a show that is “sassy, sizzling and irresistibly feel-good.” It has become a Broadway classic since debuting in 1978.

Peace wrote and directed The Mahalia Jackson Musical, staged last spring at the Segal. Ain’t Misbehavin’ is, like that play, a co-production with Copa de Oro Productions, which was founded by Peace and Allan Sandler in 2010.

“I want to present to our audiences the joy, wit and exuberance – together with the occasional touch of raunch – of Fats Waller’s wonderful music,” said Peace, who has directed more than 100 stage production, including the award-winning Piaf: Love Conquers All.

“With the great [five-member] cast we have, I hope to bring something a little different to some of the musical numbers, while still keeping the fun and energy of the songs.”

After earning critical acclaim for her performance in the French-language adaptation of Hairspray at Théâtre St. Denis this summer, Kim Richardson will star in Ain’t Misbehavin’ in the role originated by Broadway diva Nell Carter.

The three-time Juno Award-winning singer also appeared in the recent movie Funkytown, recording and co-writing the song Waiting For Your Touch for the soundtrack.

Toya Alexis, a rising and singing talent, will play the part originated by Armelia McQueen.

A 2003 runner-up in CTV’s Canadian Idol, Alexis played Effie in the London production of Dreamgirls.

Richardson and Alexis are joined by Michael-Lamont Lytle, Jonathan Emile and Aiza Ntibarikure.

Ntibarikure was in Paul Van Dyck’s adaptation of Oroonoko and also appeared alongside Richardson in Hairspray.

They will be backed by a live, five-piece band, under the musical direction of Chris Barillaro of Schwartz’s: The Musical fame. The intimate cabaret atmosphere of Harlem night spots will be recreated by set designer Jean-Claude Olivier, enhanced by Peter Spike Lyne’s lighting and Karen Pearce’s costumes.

Audiences can gain insight into Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Sunday@the Segal, a free lecture on Sept. 29 at 11 a.m. by the play’s co-creator Murray Horwitz of Washington, D.C., a longtime National Public Radio broadcaster, and Patrick Hansen, director of opera at McGill University.

Born in New York City in 1904, Waller was also an organist, composer and comedic entertainer. He studied classical piano before apprenticing with the great jazz pianist James P. Johnson, who introduced Waller to the Harlem Stride style.

Waller was one of the best who ever played this style, which came to characterize the music of the Harlem Renaissance, a time of not only creativity, but also burgeoning cultural awareness and ethnic pride.

He also developed a roguish stage personality that drew audiences. At close to 300 pounds, Waller’s weight, as well as his drinking, were widely believed to have contributed to his premature death at 39. The Segal Centre’s main-stage theatre season will continue in November with a new production of Shakespeare’s Othello, in association with Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre and directed by Alison Darcy.

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