Brian Jacobson

Ain’t Misbehavin’s Trenyce Cobbins dishes on the show

By - Apr 22nd, 2009 02:28 pm
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The former American Idol finalist, stage star, Vegas sensation, and current jazz age ingénue is sniffling over the phone line. The usually glamorous and poised staple of talk shows and the performance circuit is here forthright and humble while fighting an ‘on-the-road cold’. The honeymoon for Trenyce Cobbins of going on tour with colleagues like Ruben Studdard and Frenchie Davis plus countless musical pros appears to have faded, as everyone in the cast seems to look forward to the end in 27 days and the return to family.

ph_image1By the time the national tour of the 30th-Anniversary edition of the Broadway musical revue Ain’t Misbehavin’ rolls into Milwaukee, it will be the 54th stop since original director Richard Maltby, Jr. decided to revive this walloping tribute to the great jazz age musician Thomas “Fats” Waller. But all this fatigue doesn’t mean that the show will be tired. According to the players, it’s the show which gets them motivated every day.

“It’s amazing,” says Cobbins. “Now it’s like a well-oiled machine – but somehow it’s a different show every day. [Players] keep adding to the show. The way you say a line, a harmony with more emotional investment in it.”

Cobbins may be most well-known as a fifth place finalist and wildcard on the second season of American Idol. This is the same season Studdard won the whole thing. But it was this affiliation and friendship that came in handy when it came to landing one of the main roles in Misbehavin’ – one that once launched Irene Cara, Nell Carter, and Debbie Allen.

“I couldn’t make the auditions, so my agent sent in a tape. It sat there for several days while they saw others, until finally they did and said ‘she’s it, she’s the one’. Then they asked Ruben about me,” she says.

Studdard vouched and lobbied for the songstress, and the rest was entertainment history. It’s still not enough just be known as a former American Idol contestant, according to Cobbins. In fact, she states that while she understands the show was a stepping stone, she wants to be seen as multi-faceted.

Cobbins had previously enjoyed and pursued various entertainment aspects of African-American interest: a part in the stage version of Dreamgirls, David E. Talbert’s Love in the Nick of Tyme, E. Lynn Harris’s Not a Day Goes By, and even as a headliner in Las Vegas in V: the Ultimate Variety Show and Late Night Idol. But even with a solid education through a music scholarship at the University of Memphis, it was a revelation to fully explore the history and recordings of Thomas “Fats” Waller.

“Both my parents are musicians,” Cobbins says. “So I was always aware of him. But when I got the show and was doing research I became smitten. It’s an honor to do his music.”

While her favorite particular number changes with each show, a sentimental favorite remains “Black and Blue”, a rare quiet moment in an otherwise rollicking show.

“It’s the one moment where everyone is sitting still. Everyone is vulnerable. It takes the audience member back to a time when even though Waller was famous, he still had to walk into a joint through the kitchen. It’s just something to realize how far we’ve come.”

ph_image5Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr.’s concept for Ain’t Misbehavin’ manages to educate “without being instructional,” as Cobbins marvels. Instead this is done through adding lyrics and a little dialogue, communicating a life story and time through music. It presents the world of Harlem in the 1930s as singers play venues like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom.

This weekend’s audience should be interesting. Cobbins confirms that most of the audiences have been a mix of American Idol fans and Ain’t Misbehavin’ devotees. While her songlist when competing on Idol was often from black stars (Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Brandy) and Studdard has a solid R&B and Gospel following (from albums like Soulful and I Need an Angel), audience members come expecting different things. However, everyone should walk away captivated and tapping their feet at the wonder and bravura of true Americana.

Tickets and showtime information can be found at Milwaukee Theatre or call: 414.908.6001

Categories: Classical, Theater, VITAL

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