By Deardra Shuler
If you are an apreciando of theater you should enjoy the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin” that features the music of Fats Waller who was a great talent in the 1920s and 1930s.
Mr Waller was a composer, singer, piano player, comedian and a great artist of the Harlem Renaissance. The Irving Street Repertory theatre group is featuring the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West in the Bronx, on Saturday, January 18th at 8:00 p.m.
This writer had the opportunity to talk with Dawn Marie Driver, one of the cast members of the show. A soprano, Ms. Driver is joined in the show by fellow cast members Tony Perry, Anita Welch, Ron Lucas and Melvinna Rose. Ms. Driver has toured extensively nationally and internationally with Ain’t Misbehavin and also Smokey Joe’s Cafe, another show she is associated with. She also co-wrote 3 musicals with Bishop Townsley: Night Songs (an anthology of gospel music), Follow the Star ( Christmas Pageantry) and Love Song (A classical show). Driver has a background in gospel and theater.
“We have a great time when we do the show. It is primarily a musical. The story is told through each song. It is about 30 songs. The show has its comical aspects and the cast tries to keep the audience in stitches. The music is comprised of blues, ragtime, swing, and jazz. We try to hit every cord. We also do some of the dances of the Harlem Renaissance era which we worked on with famed choreographer Louis Johnson. We keep the show moving and alive so the audience is going to see a lot of jiggling and movement in the show. I had the pleasure of meeting the original composer of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin,’ Mr. Richard Maltby, Jr.,” said Driver who does the Nell Carter role in Ain’t Misbehavin and the BJ Crosby role in Smokey Joe’s Cafe.
“Irving Street Repertory is a touring company. Through the company I toured with Smokey Joe’s Cafe. “Ain’t Misbehavin” is also a touring show but sometimes we do it locally because we try to keep the music of Fats Waller going,” remarked Driver who is a Brooklyn resident. Emmy Award winner A. Curtis Farrow is the CEO of the Irving Street Repertory and also Ron Lucas is a co-owner of Irving St Rep.
“Through Irving Street, I have met some of the great people of theater-like legendary off-Broadway producer Woodie King, Carol Woods, Ruby Dee and Ben Vereen who is like family. Ben was doing the show ‘Wicked’ across the street from our theater so he would drop by, join in, and dazzle the people. Ruby Dee did a movie called Steam and at the end of the film she sang Amazing Grace. Our group does the sound credits at the end of the movie,” reminisced the singer.
“I joined St Mark’s Church when I was 10 years old. The church is famous for gospel music and that is where I got my start. I have been under the tutelage of Bishop Nathanial Townsley for the last 40 years. The church also serves as a venue where we perform gospel classics, gospel jazz, fusion, hip hop, and an onstage musical entitled Night Songs the New Musical which features some of the music of Bishop Townsley. We do it all! We present music from slavery times through the gospel jubilee period all the way to today’s contemporary gospel,” claimed the Audelco Award winner.