Arts and Entertainment

Fats Waller: Al Capone's birthday present | Ain't Misbehavin'

Bill Bland as Fats Waller in Centerstage Theatre
Bill Bland as Fats Waller in Centerstage Theatre's 'Ain't Misbehavin',' which runs through June 6.
— image credit: Courtesy of Laura Campbell

By Jim Triller, Federal Way resident

Thomas “Fats” Waller, the great jazz musician, stride piano player, singer and entertainer, had just finished a rollicking performance at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago during the winter of 1926. Four men wearing dark suits with wide lapels, black and white shoes and faces that meant business surrounded him and made him “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” With the cold steel of a gun shoved into his belly, he was told to go outside and get into a black limo. Terror washed over his large frame as he yielded to their direction. The car took off into the freezing night.

The driver was ordered to drive to East Cicero, a Chicago suburb. Sweating bullets, Fats foresaw an early end to his career. The limo pulled up to the Hawthorne Inn and Fats was shoved inside toward a piano and told to play. He played. The audience loved him. Loudest in applause was a stocky man with an unmistakable scar: Al Capone was having a birthday, and he, Fats, was a present from "the boys."

Capone’s party lasted three days. Fats exhausted himself and his repertoire, but with every request he played, $100 bills were stuffed into his pockets. He and Capone consumed vast quantities of food and drink. By the time the black limo headed back to the Sherman, Fats had acquired several thousand dollars in cash and a taste for vintage champagne.

"Ain’t Misbehavin’" is the 1978 Tony Award winning musical that features the infectious energy, fun and music of Fats Waller. Federal Way’s own Centerstage Theatre will is performing "Ain’t Misbehavin’" with a talented cast starring Bill Blamd, Stacie Calkins, Ashanti Cole, LaVon Hardison, Jesie Smith and under the direction of David Duvall. Come see and feel the magic that has captivated audiences for generations, including Scarface himself. As Fats would say: “This is so nice, it must be illegal.”

Shows run May 21 through June 6 (Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.). Tickets are $25 for adults and are available at (253) 661-1444 or www.centerstagetheatre.com

Another review

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe “Ain’t Misbehavin’” — Centerstage Theatre’s new Fats Waller musical show. It has everything for a magical few hours of sheer entertainment, with five excellent singers delivering memorable songs, ranging from blues to jumpin with jive. Many, but not all, were familiar to me, and it was amazing to watch and hear as they recreated the music so popular in the 1920s to even now. Some were hilarious, like “Fat and Greasy,” and others like “The Joint is Jumpin’” had us hanging on to the arms of our seats to keep us from leaping up and dancing. I know many tunes were at the top of the Hit Parade and in movies, too.

Anyone who wants (or needs) an escape from everyday chores or worries, should venture over to the Knutzen Family Theatre and celebrate the joy of this production. Centerstage definitely has a winner in this one! Give it a triple WOW! It runs weekends through June 6.

Joann Piquette, Federal Way

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