This energetic revue offers an unpretentiously entertaining two hours, but it feels more like a capably assembled package than like the stirring blockbuster one expects, considering the show's reputation. When the 1978 Broadway premiere of this plotless songfest won a best musical Tony, it must have been a lean year for debuting musicals. Ken Page of the original Broadway cast directs, adapting the original conceptions by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz, as he guides a spirited cast through a grab bag of 30 tunes written by or associated with revered 1930s singer-songwriter Thomas "Fats" Waller.
Highly familiar vintage songs (the title tune, " 'T Ain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "The Joint Is Jumpin' ") and lesser-known gems ("Your Feet's Too Big," "Spreadin' Rhythm Around") are included in the enjoyable score. Among the sassy, jazzy numbers and torch ballads, a change-of-pace highlight is the poignant group-performed "Black and Blue," a thoughtful song about racial discrimination.
This show catapulted the late Nell Carter to stardom, earning her a featured performer Tony. Vivacious Melissa Youngblood takes Carter's role here. With an amazing physical resemblance to Carter, she's a worthy successor, boasting a sparkling comedic flair and captivating presence. The joint gets jumpin' early on, when Youngblood joins forces with the portly cutup Arthur L. Ross, who takes the role created by Page. This duo sparkles in the hilarious and expertly sung "Honeysuckle Rose." Courtesy of Ross' animated facial expressions and spry physical-comedy prowess, his performance brings to mind the inspired antics of golden-age comedian Stubby Kaye. Youngblood shows her versatility in the sultry ballad "Mean to Me." Another sassy diva is the gifted Pam Trotter, whose choice interpretation of "Squeeze Me" in an audacious, breathy style combines the brassiness of a Broadway belter with a coquettish baby-doll sensibility. Natalie Wachen and Anthony Manough have leading-lady and leading-man looks, yet their accomplished work radiates with character-actor moxie. The production design bespeaks a simple elegance. Music director Darryl Archibald and choreographer Marvin Thornton elicit solid results.
Presented by Cabrillo Music Theatre at the Fred Kavli Theatre,
Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Countrywide Performing Arts Center, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.
Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Also Sun. 7 p.m. Jan. 6.), Jan. 4-13.
(805) 449-2787. www.cabrillomusictheatre.com.