Ain’t Misbehavin’ is an Ode to the Harlem Renaissance

In Milan there is a theater that allows free entrance to the public and features delightful performances of every genre, and was founded in the nineties by actress and playwright Teresa Pomodoro: Spazio Teatro No’hma.

The name itself encloses the mission of this venue, that can be traced back to Plutarch’s Letters: the fusion between the roots of two words, “vous” (nous) which means mind, and “ema” that refers to blood, i.e. our vital lymph. Thoughts and existence thus coalesce through inspiring stage performances, that nourish the soul and nurture the spirit. Hence, No’Hma has become an important reference in the city of Milan, in the way it allows spectators to  have an ethical immersion. The productions that fill the billboard every year go straight to the heart of society, through an extraordinary plurality of artistic expressions —ranging from music to drama and poetry. No’hma is in all regards a place of continuous experimentation, a jubilant fusion and contamination of creative expressions.

Recently an American production performed Ain’t Misbehavin’ on its stage. The first time this musical came to Milan was in the eighties, it then returned in the nineties and this third show — directed by Dennis Whitehead Darling, starring Samantha Miller, Frank Johnson, Stefanie Bolton, Patricia Smith, Kortland Whalum — is a Hattiloo Theatre Production.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue with a book by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., and music by various composers and lyricists as arranged and orchestrated by Luther Henderson. The show is clearly named after the song by Fats Waller, “Ain’t Misbehavin.” The musical is an ode to the black performers of the twenties and thirties who were part of the Harlem Renaissance, with humorous and rambunctious songs. Five performers embody the moods of that era without following an actual plot. The show is about sensations as the Afro-American performers — who are neatly dressed in evening gowns and suits — convey social incomprehensibility with irony and phenomenal scenic bios. Each one, generates a captivating energy in the act of performance, that trigger in audiences the desire to be jumping and jiving to the beat of memorable songs such as “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “Black and Blue”, “This Joint is Jumpin’ ” and “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling.” These songs are about the state of the soul in the style of funk, primitive jazz, folk and ethno.

The show perfectly exemplifies Teatro No’hma’s mission of this year to bring to the stage productions that discuss relations between people and enhance human connection. Dennis Whitehead Darling’s take on the this multi-act popular theatrical entertainment — that combines music, dance, and sketches — was utterly beguiling. The performance was sassy, at times even sultry, but throughout it was distinguished by moments of devastating artistry.