It serves as a tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and '30s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance, an era of growing creativity, cultural awareness, and ethnic pride, and takes its title from the 1929 Waller song "Ain't Misbehavin'". It was a time when Manhattan nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were the playgrounds of high society and Lenox Avenue dives were filled with piano players banging out the new beat known as swing. Five performers present an evening of rowdy, raunchy, and humorous songs that encapsulate the various moods of the era and reflect Waller's view of life as a journey meant for pleasure and play.
Ain't Misbehavin' opened in the Manhattan Theatre Club's East 73rd Street cabaret on February 8 1978 with featured singer Irene Cara. Its reception was such that it was decided to develop it into a full-scale production. After fourteen previews, the Broadway production, directed by Maltby with musical staging and choreography by Arthur Faria, opened on May 9 at the Longacre Theatre, later moving to the Plymouth and then the Belasco before finally completing its 1604-performance run. The original cast was comprised of Nell Carter, André DeShields, Armelia McQueen, Ken Page, and Charlayne Woodard. Replacements later in the run included Debbie Allen, Yvette Freeman, Adriane Lenox, and Alan Weeks. An original cast recording was released by RCA Victor.
The West End production opened on March 22 1979 at Her Majesty's Theatre. DeShields and Woodard were joined by Evan Bell, Annie Joe Edwards, and Jozella Reed. It was revived in London in 1995 with Debby Bishop, Dawn Hope, Melanie Marshall, Sean Palmer, and Ray Shell. A London revival cast recording was released by First Night.
After eight previews, a Broadway revival with the same director, choreographer, and cast as the original production a decade earlier opened on August 15 1988 at the Ambassador Theatre, where it ran for 176 performances.
In 1995, a national tour starred the Pointer Sisters, Eugene Barry-Hill, and Michael-Leon Wooley. Although it never reached Broadway as originally planned, a recording of highlights from the show was released by RCA.
1979 London production
1982 NBC broadcast
1988 Broadway revival