Ain’t Misbehavin’, Ailey II, Faust
By Dany Margolies/Associate Editor
It had five talented performers and a wailing band, but the performance of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” Friday at Pepperdine’s Smothers Theatre was less about them, more about the warmth and musicianship and genius of Fats Waller.
The show is merely an evening of songs, a small selection from Waller’s immense output, beginning with the eponymous “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and ending with the reprised “Honeysuckle Rose.” Between are “Handful of Keys,” “This Joint is Jumpin’,” “Black and Blue,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and nearly 25 others. With so much to sing, filler is nonexistent, and this production is staged as a cabaret show with only two cafe tables and a few chairs onstage.
The success of the evening starts with the subtlty and sophistication of the band, a rhythm section that provided just that — no distracting embellishments, no wanderings to leave the audience wondering where the rhythm went. On piano: Darius Frowner, the company’s music director, providing support, humor and an easygoing stride style to delight. On drums: a silvery-handed Leroy Ball. On bass: a gently swinging Fred Dinkins.
Waller was known not only as a composer and pianist but also as an entertainer, sometimes a buffoon, sometimes dignified and attractive. Likewise the performers, comprising M. Martine Allard, Derrick L. Baker, Vivian Jett, Ron Lucas and Connie Reid. Even though the style was jazz and the vocals ranged from comic to torchy, their lyrics were clear and the communication with the audience obvious. Each had a many-colored voice and a full palette of styles, and the men showed off a few dance moves, from buck-and-wing to lyric jazz.
Oh your feet’s too big
Don’t want you cause your feet’s too big
Mad at you cause your feet’s too big
I hate you cause your feet’s too big
Oh your pedal extremities are colossal
To me you look just like a fossil.
Fats Waller was literally and figuratively a big man. It makes one wonder if maybe lately it’s the music that’s gotten small.
By Dany Margolies/Associate Editor
Offering four works ranging from Alvin Ailey’s signature energized jazz to mysterious unseen-world abstractions, Ailey’s training company, now known as Ailey II, bombarded the stage at Pepperdine’s Smothers Theatre Saturday night.
The evening’s most thought-provoking work, “Quintet,” is an Ailey work, “restaged” with “recreated” costumes. Under effective lighting by Nicola Cernovitch and to selected songs of Laura Nyro, dancers Tina Williams, Lanette Costas, Rosalyn Sanders, Odara Jabali-Nash and Yuka Fukuda begin as a quintet of female singers, la Motown.
Striking sultry poses in blonde wigs and slinky red evening dresses, they lip sync “Stoned Cold Picnic.” For subsequent songs, however, they reveal the real women under the repulsive, externally imposed “femininity.”
Each breaks out into a solo, tearing off wigs, flinging off stiletto-heeled shoes, shedding the evening gowns and dancing barefoot in simpler clothing, indicating woman’s inner strength, independence and tolerance for pain.
“Nightscape,” choreographed by Carmen Le Lavallade to a Ginastera harp concerto, offered a solo turn to Angelica Salazar. It required a charismatic, dramatic presence above its demanding choreography of floorwork, and Salazar did not disappoint.
Costuming by Geoffrey Holder included a harness effect in grays, but a twitchy red-feathered headdress gave the dancer a birdlike demeanor, played up by her crisp head movements. Clifton Taylor’s lighting design created an authentic, dramatic moonlight.
“Sensory Feast,” choreographed by Francesca Harper to music by Rolf Ellmer, showed the company in a millennial, pre-apocalyptic-looking work in which what appeared to be young gladiators (costumes by Elena Comendador) seem to show their anger toward everyone and everything, under intense lighting by Jeremy Barr.
The evening’s opening work was its most banal. “Escapades,” a 1983 Ailey work, which program notes indicate was restaged, introduces the company as multistyled, multiracial but uniformly exuberant.
To music of Max Roach, a lonely guy and a lonely gal meet and dance happily ever after. But Jabali-Nash has a stage presence that means business, and her pas de deux with Nelson Cabassa seems to take much from “Swan Lake’s” White Swan pas de deux.
The work is costumed by Carol Vollet-Kingston, and sunny lighting by Tim Hunter includes a turquoise sky filled with magenta clouds projected on the backdrop.
Touches of African and modern are blended with a pastiche of jazz dance styles from jitterbug to Latin for Ailey’s athletic style of jazz, but the occasionally ragged corps, many hopped turns and noticeably distended ribcages of some of the dancers marred the look.
Corps standout was Sanders for her clean technique and facility in the variety of styles. The company men included Anthony Burell, Samuel Deshauteurs, Edmond Giles and Bradley Shelver.
By Juliet Schoen
You have to give the Devil his due. Gounod’s “Faust” takes on life when bass Samuel Ramey is stealing the scenes as Mephistopheles. The opera, now being performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, has been condensed from five acts to three but does bog down here and there. When Ramey is not in the action, you wish he would magically appear and jazz things up a little.
This is the celebrated bass’s debut appearance with the Los Angeles Opera and he promises to return very soon. This is very good news indeed. Although he has been performing for 30 years, he still has that beautifully resonant voice, with its remarkable range. And what a wonderful presence he has on stage! He has played the Devil in and with so many operas, he conveys a mischievous evil that is quite delightful.
While he is having fun, drinking and wenching, poor Faust is having a hard time finding an easy way to Marguerite’s heart, etc. Although Dr. Faust has exchanged his soul for youth, there is very little youthfulness in this Faust. Marcello Giordani has been touted as the Fourth Tenor, but based on this appearance, he doesn’t even make it to Fifth. He has a strong voice, with a warm quality, but the role eludes him. The romance simply isn’t there, especiallly, since he is doomed to wear a costume that would be more suitable for a bourgeois banker than a man bent on seduction.
The chaste Marguerite is played by a young Romanian soprano, Leontina Vaduva, who not only has a lovely voice but can also act. She manages to make Marguerite a most sympathetic figure and really wrings out the pathos in the final redemption scene.
Malcolm MacKenzie, who has come up through the ranks of the Los Angeles Opera, is excellent as Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, singing extremely well and dying most nobly.
The other singing members of the cast are Megan Dey-Toth in the trouser role of Siebel, Catherine Cook as Marthe and Cedric Berry as Wagner. They all do themselves proud.
The set, designed by Franco Colavecchia, was used in the opera company’s presentation of “Faust” in 1994. Although it is serviceable and allows for some dramatic effects, it exudes a Hellish sense of claustrophia. I felt that the backdrop could have been dropped for the opening scenes, to allow the villagers and soldiers to cavort in open spaces. I must also quibble about the unimaginative initial appearance of Marguerite who is supposed to be an ethereal vision but is all too human as she simply walks across the stage.
Christopher Harlan moves the action along as well as he can as director, and Philippe Auguin shows his feel for French music as he conducts the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and The Los Angeles Opera Chorale.
Gounod’s music is remarkable, with one golden aria followed by another. If you can’t remember the melodies of “The Jewel Song” or “The Flower Song,” you will recognize them when you hear them.
Of course, I will not reveal the plot, which is probably not a mystery to anybody. Poor Faust, relegated to Hell, can only apologize at the end by saying, “The Devil made me do it.”
Last performance Feb. 5.