December 18, 2017

Birthday nod to lyricist Marilyn Bergman

Marilyn Bergman is co-lyricist with husband, Alan Bergman on countless songs for movies, recordings and theater. She is the former president of ASCAP, the performing rights organization for songwriters and publishers.

Their hits include What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, How Do You Keep the Music Playing, The Way We Were, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Where Do You Start, The Windmills of Your Mind, It Might Be You, The Summer Knows, So Many Stars, The Last Time I Felt Like This and many others.

Julie Wilson, cabaret icon and mother

I had chosen Cabaret artist Julie Wilson as my honoree since she would have been 93 this week. As luck would have it, I had also selected Mind Hunter for a blog post. Imagine my surprise when I realized that her son, Holt McCallany was one of the stars of this Netflix original series. Synchronicity at work.

Whenever I was in New York, I would stop in to see Iowa-born make-up artist Steven Herrald and buy products from him. He was also the make-up man for cabaret icon Julie Wilson who was originally from Nebraska. Our paths crossed at his studio where I first heard about her son, Holt McCallany, the actor. She was rightfully proud of his success.

For those who need a refresher on who Julie Wilson was, her career spanned from her Broadway stage debut in 1946 all the way to her cabaret engagements before her death in 2015.
Career highlights included her Tony nomination for Legs Diamond in 1988, a Broadway musical starring the legendary Peter Allen, her appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and roles on the soap opera, The Secret Storm. I even saw tv footage where she did a head stand on one of the late night talk shows. She was an avid practitioner of yoga!

Wilson resided in London in the early 1950s while performing in productions of Kiss Me, Kate, South Pacific and Bells Are Ringing. She also did American national tours in Show Boat, Panama Hattie, Silk Stockings, Follies, Company and A Little Night Music.

She was best known to me as a superlative interpreter of Great American Song with collection recordings featuring material by Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman, Stephen Sondheim, and the Gershwins.

Julie, we miss you but we see a bit of your signature eyes in the face of Holt. Your legacy lives on in son and song.

Who is Karen Akers you ask?

She was in the original Broadway production of Nine and had a juicy role in another Maury Yeston musical called Grand Hotel.

Akers has also appeared in films; Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo and Heartburn, but she has devoted fans for her cabaret career.

Her first two albums were continually on my stereo turn-table, Presenting Karen Akers and In a Very Unusual Way. Adept in French and German as well as English, she has been known for her impeccable repertoire of theater and cabaret songs.

All Music lists ten Karen Akers solo albums: https://www.allmusic.com/artist/karen-akers-mn0000356422/discography

Johnny Burke – Lyricist of Note (1908 – 1964)

Though not as well known as lyricists like Johnny Mercer or Sammy Cahn, Johnny Burke contributed many great lyrics to the Great American Songbook, including the Oscar-winning song, Swinging On a Star from the 1944 Bing Crosby movie Going My Way.

While born in California, he grew up in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and landed his first job in the Chicago office of the Irving Berlin Publishing Company, in the midst of the “Roaring Twenties.” Berlin transferred Burke to the New York office where he started collaborating with composer, Harold Spina.

By 1936, Burke had relocated to Hollywood where some of his songwriting partners included Arthur Johnston (Pennies From Heaven) and Jimmy Monaco, but it was with Jimmy Van Heusen that his songwriting took off. Their hits included Here’s That Rainy Day, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Imagination, It Could Happen To You, But Beautiful, Like Someone In Love, Moonlight Becomes You and Sunday, Monday or Always. Other of his notable songs were What’s New with Bob Haggart and the classic, Misty with Burke lyrics added to the cool jazz piano hit of Erroll Garner.

Mr. Burke, Happy Birthday this week and thank you for all of your lovely lyrics.

Chicago Cabaret Professionals Annual Gala at Park West honoring KT Sullivan, George Howe and Claudia Hommel’s SongShop

Not only is there a dynamite cast of local favorite singers at the annual Chicago Cabaret Professionals Gala, but the organization is honoring three entities that all music-lovers should know about.

KT Sullivan is one of the most impressive cabaret artists performing today. She was a headliner at the storied Oak Room at New York’s Algonquin Hotel for almost 20 years, starred in the Broadway revival of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and has performed at places like Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center and the Spoleto Festival. She has concertized in London, Paris and Australia and has been seen and heard on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion and PBS. She continues to serve the cabaret community not only as a performer, but as artistic director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation since 2012.
https://www.ktsullivan.com/
Many people know George Howe as the indispensable sidekick to Daryl Nitz, but he wears several other hats as well. His long-running Monday night open mike at Davenport’s draws pros and amateurs alike. With his fine vocals and piano, Howe demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of songs of all types. He is also an accomplished composer having written the scores to family musicals such as “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” and general audience fare such as “Queen Lucia,” “Sleepy Ugly” and “Northanger Abbey.” For more about the amazing George Howe, please visit:
http://www.georgehowemusic.com/

SongShop, created by Claudia Hommel, has provided a safe workshop environment for singers of all ages and levels to explore the approach, interpretation and performance of songs. Homes, churches, schools and theaters have hosted SongShop concerts, but the most long-standing affiliation has been with DePaul University’s Adult Education Division. Hommel has not only kept the Chicago SongShop going strong but has branched out to Detroit. Along with her own performing schedule, she has conducted song workshops in Paris and at institutions across the United States. SongShop has not only nurtured singers, but has educated listeners about the emotional connection possible when lyrics meet the hearts and minds of audience members.
http://songshoplive.com/about

Other performers at the Gala include Anne & Mark Burnell, Cynthia Clarey, Joan Curto, Elizabeth Doyle, David Edelfelt, Hilary Ann Feldman, Laura Freeman, Cathy Glickman, Carla Gordon, KT McCammond, Denise McGowan Tracy, Beckie Menzie & Tom Michael, Marianne Murphy-Orland, Daryl Nitz, Judy Rossignuolo-Rice & Bernie Rice.

Doors open at 5:45 p.m. “Cocktail” performance begins at 6:15 p.m. The Gala Performance starts at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are also available at www.ticketfly.com 877.987.6487

Avoid fees and purchase tickets at the Park West Box Office 773.929.5959

CCP will take ticket sales via check, credit card or PayPal by mail or on our website. For more info call our hotline 312-409-3106 or email ccp408268@aol.com.

Alan Jay Lerner, wordsmith

Musical Theater geeks will recognize the name Alan Jay Lerner, but the general public may ask, “Who?”
Not only did he co-write My Fair Lady which some theater aficionados consider the perfect musical theater piece, but his creative output also included Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi and Camelot, all written with composer Frederick Loewe. He won Academy Awards for writing the screenplays for An American In Paris, Gigi and a nomination for the adapted screenplay for My Fair Lady so lyrics were not his only interest.


He also had some other interesting collaborations. With Burton Lane, he created the movie musical, Royal Wedding, and the stage musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever which was recently revived on Broadway with Harry Connick, Jr. and Jessie Mueller. He and Andre Previn penned a musical, Coco about iconic fashion designer Chanel; Lolita, My Love was a written with composer, John Barry; 1600 Pennsyvalania Avenue was co-written with the revered Leonard Bernstein; composer Charles Strouse was his partner on Dance a Little Closer. Lerner also started the movie project Dr. Doolittle but was replaced with Brit Leslie Bricusse.

A little known fact is that Alan Jay Lerner was, for a time, the lyricist for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The second act opener, Masquerade is conjectured to have an uncredited lyric by Lerner.

The celebrated librettist has two other darker claims to fame. He was a patient of Max Jacobsen, “Dr. Feelgood” and was addicted to amphetamines for 20 years. Lerner was also married 8 times and fathered four children. An ex-wife quipped, “Marriage is Alan’s way of saying goodbye.”

Still and all, every time I sing favorites like Almost Like Being In Love, On a Clear Day, On the Street Where You Live, If Ever I Would Leave You and countless other songs, I honor the brilliance of Alan Jay Lerner.

An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater

I had heard about this charming musical ever since it premiered on Broadway to great acclaim in 2015, so it was with great anticipation that I caught this national tour version of An American In Paris.

The production has several things going for it. Ballet sequences are breath-taking as conceived by director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.  George Gershwin’s music provides the lush soundtrack for the whole show. Not only do we hear permutations of his famous An American In Paris orchestral work, but we are treated to portions of his classical Second Prelude, his Concerto in F, his Second Rhapsody and his Cuban Overture. Beloved songs like I Got Rhythm and The Man I Love are sung by cast members, but lesser known tunes like Fidgety Feet, Who Cares and Liza shed new light on Gershwin’s song catalogue.
The technical aspects of the show dazzle with creative use of screen images on the electronic back drop and moving screens. Parisian buildings, paintings and other famous sights delight the eye throughout the show. A recurring view of the river Seine is most amusing as two boats are depicted by different artistic techniques.

The plot harkens back to the basic romantic formula found in black and white movies. Three men who are friends are all in love with the same ballerina. Boy and boy and boy meet girl. Only one boy gets girl.

The action takes place in Paris right after World War II in 1945 so the frothy doings are sprinkled with references to the German Occupation, the Resistance, and the Holocaust making this a work of both light and dark.

For me the orchestral music, the dance sequences, the stage images and Craig Lucas’ snappy dialogue outshine the singing, but this is a quibble when the over-all effect of the production is to know that one has spent a delightful evening at the theater.  Broadway In Chicago will be running An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater through August 13, 2017.

http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/an-american-in-paris/

Notes on the 2017 Elkhart Jazz Festival

David Edelfelt, Elizabeth Doyle & Charles Troy at the Midwest Museum of American Art (a former downtown Elkhart bank)

As musical guests of Charles Troy in his two Cole Porter presentations this past weekend, David Edelfelt and I were introduced to the charms of Elkhart, Indiana and its Jazz Festival, celebrating its 30th year.

The entire downtown becomes one big block party with food concessions, an exhibit of vintage cars and music, music, everywhere. People lay claim to the outdoor row seating or bring lawn chairs to install themselves in front of two large outdoor stages, or they pop into clubs, churches and theaters to catch a great variety of jazz during the three day festival.

Elizabeth Doyle at the Midwest Museum of American Art during the 2017 Elkhart Jazz Festival

The two programs we presented were Cole Porter and the Great Depression and Cole Porter’s Top Ten List Songs. Our connection to jazz was illustrating the provenance of Porter tunes that have become jazz standards. Hoosiers are justifiably proud of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael who hail from Indiana.

Gene Bertoncini, Bucky Pizzarelli, Martin Pizzarelli and Ed Laub at the New Life Community Church during Elkhart’s 2017 Jazz Fest

We were able to catch some fantastic music when we weren’t engaged ourselves. Chicago trumpeter Bobby Lewis was regaling crowds outdoors with his 1988 Rhythmakers Revival Band. The Ed Laub Trio featured revered 91-year-old guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, his son Martin, guitarist Gene Bertoncini and guitarist/vocalist Laub.

We ended Saturday evening hearing the Fat Babies, a tight 8-piece Chicago  band that specializes in 1920’s and 1930’s jazz charts. Audience members leapt to their feet at the end of this young band’s invigorating set.

We also had outstanding food at the Main street restaurant, 523. Their menu had something for everyone, including steaks and chops, seafood, burgers, salads and vegan fare. This establishment has big city tastes with seasoned wait staff and an interesting bar menu.

Seward Johnson’s “American Gothic” statues in Elkhart’s Central Park

David Edelfelt posing with Seward Johnson’s statue of Marilyn Monroe

Art lovers can admire 56 life-like statues by sculptor Seward Johnson, dotting Elkhart and environs. A giant replica of Grant Wood’s American Gothic in Elkhart’s Central Park was my favorite. Then again, I almost put money into the guitar case of a street musician until I realized he was inanimate.

I plan to return to see all 19 of the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail, having seen one downtown garden that used real flowers to fashion a patchwork pattern. There are also 22 hand-painted murals on buildings that continues the quilt theme throughout the city.

A visit to downtown Elkhart encompasses music, art, good food and fine fellowship.

Count me in for next year’s 31st Elkhart Jazz Fest.

www.elkhartjazzfestival.com

Lonesome Losers of the Night at Theo Ubique

Put Theo Ubique’s excellent chamber revue, Lonesome Losers of the Night on your must-see theater list.

The songs of Jacques Brel burst onto the American scene with a Broadway revue called Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris which opened in 1968. Lyric writer and translator Arnie Johnston has taken on the task of translating Brel songs that are unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, as well as re-translating well-known Brel songs with lyrics that skew closer to the images in the original French versions.

A wonderful collaboration between Theo Ubique and Johnston began in 2006 with Songs of Love and War, the theater’s first Brel revue. This is the second go-round for Lonesome Losers which was previously produced by Theo Ubique in 2008-2009.

The new production features stunning ensemble singing, inventive choreography and blocking, a realistic set, plus the excellent music direction and piano skills of company member, Jeremy Ramey. Theo Ubique lynchpin, Fred Anzevino masterfully directs this 110 minute intermission-less revue. No words are needed as the singing actors segue from solos, duets, trios and quartet numbers. We are drawn into the drama of a seaport speakeasy as we observe the bartender, two sailors and a “girl for sale.” All four performers are skillful, but I was especially impressed with Randolph Johnson as the world-weary bartender and Jill Sesso as the provocative female of the cast.

A few of the songs may sound familiar but the lyrics will be fresh to your ears, such as Don’t Leave Me which is better known as Ne Me Quitte Pas/If You Go Away. Not all of the material is angst-laden, such as Beer, Rosa and the Song of Jacky, but neither is it a laugh riot with the second to last number being the thematically apt, Alone. Emotional depth is the raison-d’etre of this revue.

Cabaret theater like this usually flourishes in small venues such as Rogers Park’s No Exit, allowing the audience to enjoy food, and especially drink during the show. Word comes that the theater company will be moving to Evanston in the near future. Let us hope they recreate this intimate theater environment that requires no mikes and has the actors literally a breath away from their audience.

Get your Brel on before Theo Ubique’s marvelous production, Lonesome Losers of the Night closes on August 6, 2017.

http://www.theo-u.com/

Parade at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL

Last night I saw a well-nigh perfect musical theater production of  Parade at Writers Theatre in Glencoe. The singing, acting, staging, choreography, costumes and pit band were all excellent.

For years, I have heard about this storied musical with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by famed playwright Alfred Uhry. The work itself reminds me of Floyd Collins with its intricate score and midnight dark topic. Parade has the added benefit of having an emotional apex in act two that alchemically turns bad events into a flowering of love and loyalty.

Leo Frank masterfully played by Patrick Andrews is a Jewish factory owner in Atlanta who is accused of murdering one of his female workers. Brianna Borger portrays his steadfast wife. Everyone in the cast turns in stellar performances but I was especially taken with servant turned chain gang tough Jonathan Butler-Duplessis and Kevin Gudahl as prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.

You might not get the chance to see Parade in the near future and certainly not in a such a stunning production. Director Gary Griffin has created stage magic at Writers Theatre.

This was the first time I had seen their new ultra-modern building and I literally fell in love with the exterior, the lobby and the main stage area. I will certainly be back for other productions.

Don’t let the parade pass you by! The show runs through July 9, 2017.

http://www.writerstheatre.org/calendar-tickets#6/2017