By Kristina Houck
Swing into the Harlem Renaissance with San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’: The ‘Fats’ Waller Musical Show,” opening Sept. 27 at Birch North Park Theatre.
Capturing the golden age of jazz in 1920s and 1930s Harlem, the musical revue features the tunes of Thomas “Fats” Waller, a jazz pianist, composer and singer from the era.
“I’d love for the audience to take away a piece of our African American history and music, which is a dying platform,” said director and choreographer Ron Kellum, who has worked in the entertainment industry for 25 years. “Whether you know Waller’s music or not, you’re going to hear music that has inspiration, great storytelling and moves the soul. I want to introduce or reintroduce the audience to the African American songbook that we don’t get to hear often.”
After a stint at the Manhattan Theatre Club, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” opened on Broadway in 1978 at the Longacre Theatre. The Tony Award-winning musical features more than two-dozen song-and-dance numbers.
“Every community has a story,” said Kellum, who is currently directing “Chicago” at Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento. “It dials us into being more open, understanding and appreciating our diversity. That’s what theater does. It really helps us look at things in a way we may not have seen them or heard them before.”
This is Kellum’s second time directing the musical. He first directed the show seven years ago in Los Angeles.
San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” features five actors, including four Broadway stars.
“They really have to be triple threats — amazing dancers, incredible actors and great movers. Their responsibility is to translate this music through song and dance,” Kellum said. “We took our time to really find the right five. It’s all about their chemistry and their synergy. I’m excited to work with this caliber of amazing talent.”
Kellum has worked with a few of the actors before, including Rufus Bonds, Jr., who plays Ken. The pair collaborated on a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in the early ’90s and have been friends ever since.
“I’m very, very happy to be working with him again,” said Bonds, Jr., who has starred in “Rent,” “Once on This Island” and “Parade” on Broadway, and performed in national tours of “The Lion King,” “The Color Purple” and “Miss Saigon.” “It’s going to be a blast!”
Bonds, Jr. first portrayed Ken in “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in the 1980s.
“The music is very upbeat; it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a feel-good musical. People leave feeling wonderful. It’s a time when we need that.”
With musical direction by Don LeMaster, San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’ also stars Sylvia MacCalla as “Nell,” Jenelle Randall as “Charlaine,” Amber Mercomes as “Armelia” and David LaMarr as “Andre.”
“Seeing these five incredible singers on stage singing great music with an incredible jazz component is sort of a love letter to that catalog and to that period,” Kellum said.
“Ain’t Misbehavin” opens Sept. 27 and runs through Oct. 13 at Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave, San Diego. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 858-560-5740 or visit www.sdmt.org.