Last night I experienced a riveting and classic revival of Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Howard University Theatre Arts Department. I must say the production was solid from beginning to end. Howard and its students have a unique charm that snatches you immediately. I promise not to be biased judging by the fact that I too am a Bison. Let’s jump in!
I did not know what to expect honestly walking into the theatre. I have not seen a Howard production in about two years. Ira’s atmosphere has not changed. Tickets were just $5 for this particular night…we will get to that later (we have to do better with marketing teams and strategies and SUPPORTING the institutions that have rooted us). The performers were captivating as soon as they were within the audience’s view. I was instantly appreciative of the authentic sound from the band and the vocalist.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ can be a bit of a drag if there is no vision and insight. This rendition was exquisitely flavorful. There was a cast of 10 instead of the usual 5. Director Marty A. Lamar, did an exceptional job of maintaining the audience’s attention. I was personally impressed by the pedestrianism in the background. It was very detailed without taking away from the action. As we all know, the background action can be one of two things…good or bad.
Each character had his or her own very unique and well thought out dimensions within the ensemble. The relationships had humorous, yet organic arcs. My favorite was between Greg and Kalen (with Kayla as the side chick). Kudos Mr. Lamar on making the entire show seem effortless.
The production team (set, lights, costuming) clearly pulled their weight. I would say it all comes together when the cast sang Black and Blue. The mood was set just right and the dancing puppet caricature was a fine choice. I would also like to mention choreographer, Royce Zackery, for his “informed” style. Each movement and dance took a story of its own.
You can ALWAYS tell when you’re listening to a voice trained by Professor Doug Bowles. Outside of Doug being a phenomenal vocalist himself (no, literally, he can sing anything), the voices of his students are always accompanied by so much character. If you couldn’t hear the worlds, you would still know the meaning based on his technique. He gives the voice something you can feel. If you would allow me to step outside of my professional tone, “these “chiren” SANG!” I was particularly impressed by the underclassmen.
Fine, Fine, Fine Arts went digging down in Georgia and struck pure gold! I was so shocked that Ms. Kalen is a freshman. I could go on and on about her. She has a voice in the realms of Amber Riley and Jill Scott. She was addictive each time she opened her mouth. She has a presence that demands attention. I see a big future for her. Remember her name!
Certain performers know exactly what the audience needs. Greg worked nonstop to please us while remaining true to his character. He was the glue of the performance, holding us together with his steal lung.
This girl brings back classic jazz in a perfume bottle. She’s a refreshing soprano. Her performance was seductive, humorous, and inebriating. Nia, the lady in purple, stood out and it wasn’t just because of the consistent colors in her costumes.
Emmanuel Elliot Key
Emmanuel should be excited about the versatility his career can potentially bring. He is a canvas. His performance felt like fine wine, Sauvignon Blanc, not a sweet Moscato. He gets you there quickly with his whit and charm. I’d say watch him closely.
Bryan is butter. He understands how to maneuver in context to his surroundings and other cast mates. He has mastered “just right.” In the beginning of the show, he was the captivating man with the cigarette. It built anticipation because I know Bryan can sing. He spent most of the show dancing, and, might I add, he definitely has a good foot. He spiced up the second act with a seductive performance of The Viper’s Drag. I think we all felt high.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Wheeler at The Sangersroom (now The Sangers Movement) last month and I was instantly a fan. I am excited to see who she will be once she has completely broke her shell. She had a number of memorable moments and her voice is sultry and polished.
Wow. Wow. Wow. I barely noticed Kevin in Act 1. He hugged the background as a drunk. I figured maybe he wasn’t a singer (since he’s an acting major). My face dropped during Act 2 when he sang Your Feet’s Too Big. He stole the show. I couldn’t take my eyes off his character. He literally looked and moved like an old drunk. He was so believable. The audience went wild! Then he opened his mouth…I have not heard a voice that strong, distinct, and dignified from a college student or anyone else in the DC theatre scene (just yet anyway). Doug informed me after the show that Kevin didn’t necessarily consider himself a singer; however, he could probably go straight into an opera career. The charisma and clarity of his voice make him a candidate for any role. He’s also an incredible actor. Kevin is simply a threat.
Alexcia was so adorable. She is a heart stealer. There is something mysterious about her that keeps you wanting more. I knew each time she featured that I would get something solid. She uses her instrument well.
There is something so powerful about just BEING. Rukiya needs no introduction. She opened the show and gave me “boss” lady for the remainder of the production. I think it says a lot about the performer she is off the stage. Her professionalism speaks for her. Oh, and shout out to whoever styled her wig!
“Is that your little sister?” When Neah is on stage, pay attention to Neah. Her face gives you so much back story. She was the dance captain of the production and rightfully show.
I will say it is unfortunate that these young performers are working so hard to produce excellence and they are not being seen due to limited marketing strategies. According to the program, ONE student is overseeing marketing. Howard is full of resources. I’m not sure why the marketing majors of the university can’t be utilized to further community outreach and support. I do recognize the onus also lies on community involvement, attention, and support. Alumni should be there every time the doors open. Nevertheless, HU shows should be packed out simply because they are the only institution in DC consistently showcasing black art.
Lastly, what I appreciated the most is how SURE each performer was in who they are and the story they were telling. Congrats Ain’t Misbehavin’, you guys definitely Bring It Black.