Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe Steps Out With the Music of Fats Waller in Big Sexy
Musical theater fans are most likely familiar with the Broadway hit Ain’t Misbehavin’, which highlights the songs of musician Thomas “Fats” Waller. Locally, it’s been produced by a couple of theaters over the years, including Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
But WBTT artistic director Nate Jacobs wanted to do something slightly different with the company’s current world premiere production of Big Sexy, The Fats Waller Revue, now onstage. Yes, it certainly includes a slew of tunes penned or made famous by Waller. But in addition to Waller, the show is designed to pay tribute to longtime WBTT troupe member Leon S. Pitts, who’s appeared in a host of shows there and has a strong fan base with its audiences.
Pitts has sung, danced and acted his heart out in many WBTT offerings, from The Wiz to Soul Crooners to Guys and Dolls. With his build, personality and engaging, often comic style, he’s a natural to play an avatar of sorts of Waller. In Big Sexy, he’s also playing himself, telling the audience a bit about how he came to be involved with performing while still a youth and what it means to him.
He's joined by another frequent WBTT performer, Ariel Blue, as his “leading lady,” here dubbed Devenae Darling, as well as some newbies and sort of newbies: Jazzmin Carson as Henrietta Hash, Andrea Jean as Sherry Sunshine and Ulric Alfred Taylor as Leroy Levanthall. In Jacobs’ concept, creating these characters allows some room for playing around with pairings and relationships as numbers are performed and snippets of info about Waller’s life are revealed.
But really, it’s the songs that are the heart of Big Sexy, and while many are well-known (“Two Sleepy People,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint Is Jumpin’”), there are a few that you may not have heard, at least not in the context of a theatrical piece: “Nothing for Nothing,” “My Very Good Friend the Milkman,” “All That Meat and No Potatoes”). The lineup is a good mix of upbeat and comic, from the fairly hilarious “Viper Drag” and “Your Feet’s Too Big” to slower, more emotional numbers like “Black and Blue” and “Stormy Weather.”
Under the musical direction of Matthew McKinnon, who flashes through in dazzling Waller style with an “Entr’acte” on keyboards (kudos to the band overall, especially Jason Whitmore’s smoky sax playing), we’re entertained by a profusion of hits. Donald Frison’s choreography helps immeasurably, and Adrienne Pitts’ costumes (lots of sparkly gowns for the women and pinstripe suits for the gents) are fun to look at.
One could certainly argue that Big Sexy doesn’t really offer much new to the Waller canon already found in Ain’t Misbehavin’. But the cast works more than ably under Jacobs’ direction, and the show is bound to be a crowd pleaser.
Big Sexy continues through May 28. For tickets, call (941) 366-1505 or go to westcoastblacktheatre.org.