Theater is like any other art form—sometimes a job, sometimes a chore—but every once in a while, the right artists meet the right project and magic is born. That magic can be found in Sonoma Arts Live’s (SAL) season-opening production of Ain’t Misbehavin’, running now through Sept. 25.
Directed by Aja Gianola-Norris, choreographed by Tyehimba Kokayi and with FIRST TIME musical director Neil Fontano, this musical revue of the works of Thomas “Fats” Waller is a breath of fresh air in this community. The cast of five—Gianola-Norris, D’Artagnan Riviera, Serena Elize Flores, Phillip Percy Williams and Jonathen Blue—are absolutely effervescent.
Set loosely in early 20th-century Harlem, the show opens with the high-energy titular song, then swirls into the brilliant camp of “Yacht Club Swing” (featuring Gianola-Norris), a comedically effective “Cash for Trash” (Elize Flores), a classy “Lounging at the Waldorf” (Riviera), the funny “Your Feet’s Too Big” (Williams), a heartbreaking “Mean to Me” (Blue) and the immaculately sorrowful strength of an all-cast “Black and Blue.”
There is less of a plot here than a theme. That theme is joy: the joy of living, the joy of being human, the joy of being Black. Ain’t Misbehavin’ shines a sparkling spotlight on a topic that is often overlooked in American theater: the humanity and happiness of Black people. That happiness explodes from the Rotary Stage.
It would be disingenuous to pretend this show was perfect and the few things “wrong” with this show can be easily fixed if SAL would be willing to do so.
The sound mixing was not up to par, and it was sometimes difficult to hear performers over the excellent band.
More egregious was that Sonoma Arts Live sent the performers of color on stage with white body microphones that were distracting at the best of times and downright insulting during tender moments. Body mics are a required expense of doing musicals. The purchase or rental of mics for non-white actors should be an expectation of any theater doing this or any musical.
Despite these issues, I still come to an obvious conclusion: Go see this show! Take your family and your friends. Treat yourself to a second or third trip. These artists are more than worthy of your admiration, and it is impossible not to feel joy in their presence.
‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ runs through Sept. 25 on the Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Thurs-Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $25 -$42. Masking is encouraged. 707-484-4874. sonomaartslive.org