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Release: Immediate

Fats Waller musical 'Ain't Misbehavin'' opens University Theatres season

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The David Thayer Theatre in the University of Iowa Theatre Building will be transformed into a '30s Harlem nightclub when the hit Broadway musical revue "Ain't Misbehavin'" opens the University Theatres Mainstage season with a three-week run Oct. 2-19.

Performances will be at 8 p.m. Oct. 2-4, 10-12 and 16-18, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 5, 13 and 19.

Food-and-beverage table service will be available during the pre-show, performance and intermission. Al and Irene's Barbecue of Cedar Rapids will offer ribs, chicken, baked beans, cole slaw, corn muffins and sweet potato pie. Beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages will also be served.

The only Broadway musical ever to win Tony, New York Drama Critics, Drama Desk, Obie and Grammy awards, Ain't Misbehavin', is a revue loosely based on the life of Fats Waller, the irrepressible songwriter and pianist who got his start playing at Harlem rent parties and became the symbol of good-time jazz.

But the music is the story. The stars of the show are Waller's standards, including "Honeysuckle Rose," "Mean to Me," "Squeeze Me," "The Joint is Jumpin'" and, of course, "Ain't Misbehavin'."

The University Theatres production is directed by Black Action Theatre's Harriette M. Pierce and choreographed by Dance Theatre of Harlem veteran Kabby Mitchell III, a recent graduate of the UI dance department. The production draws on the resources of not only the department of theatre arts but also the dance department and the School of Music. The vocal director is Marcya Daneille and musical director is Michael Giles.

Audience members are invited to come in period dress, if they choose. "We want the audience to enjoy the many layers of Fats' musical talent, so that they come away from the experience humming the songs," Pierce says. "It's all right to participate with the cast and sing, if you know the song. We just want you to have a great time at the club . . . maybe you'll come back!"

Harlem in the 1920s and '30s was throbbing with music and dance, spilling into the streets from hundreds of dancehalls, theaters, bars, nightclubs and speakeasies including the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom and the Apollo Theater. It was the time when Ella Fitzgerald was discovered at a talent contest, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson danced, Eubie Blake tickled the ivories and Bessie Smith bellowed the blues.

No entertainer more exemplified the good-time aspects of the era than Thomas "Fats" Waller, the gregarious composer, singer and pianoman. Waller got his start as a teenager, playing the organ at the Lincoln Theater, and on the power of his first hit, "The Boston Blues," he became a regular on the Vaudeville circuit.

In the wild days of Prohibition and the cultural ferment of the Harlem Renaissance, Waller reeled out a string of hits including the "Jitterbug Waltz," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "The Joint is Jumpin'." His career encompassed not only the Harlem club scene but Broadway revues, a coast-to-coast radio series, a tour of Europe, hit recordings, a solo jazz recital at Carnegie Hall and appearances in movies including "Hooray for Love," "King of Burleque" and "Stormy Weather."

Fats was just 39 years old when he died of pneumonia in 1943. Pianist James P Johnson said as an epitaph, "Fats, he was all music -- and you know how big he was."

As a special original touch in the University Theatres production, "Fats" Waller will be part of the audience, as a host and respondent to the celebration on stage.

Tickets for "Ain't Misbehavin'" are $15 ($8 for UI students, senior citizens and youth), and are available in advance from the Hancher box office.

Tickets are also available at a 25-percent discount as part of a University Theatres subscription package. Subscriptions are available for the full, five-play Mainstage season, or for three plays of the theatergoers' choice. The other Mainstage productions are Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia," Nov. 6-16; Tennessee Williams' "Eccentricities of a Nightingale" Feb. 5-15; the world premiere of "Salt" by guest playwright Migdalia Cruz; and Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," April 2-12.

A free season brochure is available from the Hancher box office, or from the Department of Theatre Arts, 319-335-2700.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.