More nagging is the harsh sound of the amplified voices, normally not an issue at the technically slick Signature, and certainly unexpected for a show reveling in Fats Waller’s vintage jazz and blues. The metallic edge is so piercing that the first act closer, “This Joint Is Jumpin,’ ” makes the singers sound like emergency sirens even before the police car effects in the sound design.
So, too, much of this evening is spent wishing for what might have been, especially with such a sturdy cast singing songs including “ ’T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do” and “Mean to Me” around pianist Mark G. Meadows and a cogent jazz septet. Nova Y. Payton sings some long, gorgeous phrases in the bluesy ballad “Mean to Me,” but then the finish overcooks the melodrama. Lustrous baritone Kevin McAllister caresses the scale elaborately as he woos Payton with “Honeysuckle Rose,” but the comic biz-ness drags, as it does with Iyona Blake as a fussy singer too expertly crooning the droll “When the Nylons Bloom Again.” A lot of the first act is like watching sluggers fiddle with their batting gloves instead of stepping up and taking swings.
To be sure, there’s only so wrong you can go with such a fistful of talent and an easygoing crowd-pleaser like this. Director Joe Calarco’s production creates a cozy, old-time nightclub frame, with set designer Paige Hathaway’s enveloping vaudeville lights and plush red cushioned walls. Music director Meadows plays an upright piano with his back to us; his nimble hands up and down the keyboard are a good show on their own.
Jared Grimes’s sinuous choreography for singer-dancer Solomon Parker III in the reefer madness tune “The Viper” is a highlight. So is McAllister merrily goofing through “Your Feet’s Too Big,” along with Payton, in a money-green dress by costume designer Sarita P. Fellows, unleashing her silvery soprano to a double-time second verse of “Cash for Your Trash.” Korinn Walfall is the fifth member of the quintet, which harmonizes in crisp parts through a formal, haunting “Black and Blue.” But the show ought to caress your ears and tickle some laughs out of you, and too often this disjointed “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” doesn’t act quite right.
Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz. Directed by Joe Calarco. Lights, Sherrice Mojgani; sound design, Ryan Hickey. Through March 10 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. $40-$114. 703-820-9771. sigtheatre.org.