August 23, 2017

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/

Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion Kick-off Concert Sunday, July 23 at 6:30 pm at PianoForte

Headliners at PianoForte include Lynne Jordan, Claudia Hommel, Elizabeth Doyle, Kat Victoria along with Ava Logan, Cynthia Clarey, Natalja Aicardi, Ty Cooper and Barb Smith with pianist Paul Coscino.

People keep asking me what this “Connexion” is all about. In a nutshell, it is a three day conference with American and French singers in Paris. This is no mere touristic visit to the City of Light, but a meeting of vocal artists from Chicago and Paris to discuss the performance, history and future of cabaret. We hope this to be the first of annual conferences which will alternate between Chicago and Paris, our sister city.

Some of the weekend highlights will include visits to the Museum of Montmartre with its excellent collection of cabaret memorabilia, to the Sunday morning open sing-along at the Petit Bal Musette on the rue Mouffetard and to Le Lapin Agile which has been a cabaret venue since 1860.

Clinicians both French and American will present a concert on Saturday evening, September 16 at Studio Raspail; conference participants will be featured in a concert on Sunday, September 17 at l’Espace le Scribe.

Morning and afternoon sessions will be master classes and special presentations such as Kat Victoria’s show on Black female singers in Paris, Michel Trihoreau’s history of cabaret with singer-guitarist Michel Grange and Yves Bertrand’s program on singer-songwriter Marcel Legay.

The conference is not only for singers. We have some fans who will be attending the evening performances of the “Connexion” in Paris.

Cabaret fan Clyde Whitaker is flying into Paris from Thailand.

The funds we are raising in Chicago are predominantly to pay for the Paris venues and the salaries of French musicians and clinicians. Please support this musical project that strengthens the bond between Paris and Chicago. Your attendance at one of our benefit concerts, your purchase of a raffle ticket or your donation will help make this international cabaret exchange a reality. Long live cabaret in Paris and Chicago!

For more information on the Chicago concerts and the Paris Conference, please go to: http://www.chicagopariscabaretconnexion.org/index.php

Bastille Day on July 14th

Bastille Day is celebrated in France in much the same manner as our 4th of July in the United States. Fireworks, picnics and parades are part of both countries festivities for this patriotic holiday, but the French have some interesting customs I think we should adopt.
Petanques, boules or bocce are all names for the beloved game where the goal is to toss hollow metal balls as close as possible to the smaller wooden ball called a piglet or jack. Any backyard or park with a flat grass or dirt surface can be an instant petanques or bocce court. Many French Bastille parties feature endless rounds of this game that dates from the early 1900s. Luckily, I have found friends and neighbors in Chicago that play this game, too.

Firehouses throughout Paris and environs are filled with revelers enjoying beverages, dancing and music on July 13 and 14th. From 9 pm to 4 am, these festive Firemen’s balls raise money for the community’s fearless fire fighters while providing a blow-out of a party for Bastille celebrants. Cover charges and donations fill the Fire Department’s coffers.

How about talking Chicago firehouses into doing something similar on the 3rd of July? The fire fighters could regale party-goers with their favorite recipes, music and dance steps while raising money for the Chicago Fire Department!

Singing the national anthem and wearing red, white and blue are other things French and Americans share in July. To be honest, La Marseillaise is much easier to sing than The Star Spangled Banner! Vive la France!

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

 

Nelson Riddle, Arranger to the stars

Nelson Riddle with Frank Sinatra

Nelson Riddle – Composer, music director for tv, film and music recordings, band leader/conductor and orchestrator/arranger would have been 95 this week.

Riddle played piano and trombone but it was as an arranger and composer that he found his greatest success. His arrangements  graced the recordings of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Johnny Matthis, Rosemary Clooney, Keely Smith and some of Ella Fitzgerald’s famed Songbook albums.

He had a career resurgence in the 1980s, working with Linda Ronstadt on her three albums of jazz standards, What’s New, Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons.

Iconic Riddle arrangements include Route 66, One For My Baby, Mona Lisa, Unforgetable and Witchcraft. He also composed scores for films and tv shows. Although he didn’t compose the theme song for the 1960s television show, Batman, he did score several episodes along with those of The Untouchables.

Other artists he did arrangements for included Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr., Kate Smith and Oscar Peterson, among many others.

Born on June 1, 1921, Nelson Riddle died at age 64 in 1985.

Marilyn Maye, Cabaret Diva at 89

Cabaret aficionados may recognize the name, but Marilyn Maye needs to be more widely honored for her lengthy career and her indomitable ability to defy age as she turns 89 this month.

Born in Wichita, KS, she and her mother moved to Des Moines, IA for her teen years. While there, she met songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane who helped secure her own 15 minute radio show.
Chicago and Kansas City figure into her early performing career. She met Steve Allen who promptly invited her to be on his TV program, The Steve Allen Show. This led to her appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where she holds the impressive record of having sung on the show 76 times, more than any other singer.

Marilyn Maye in the 1960s

She had a handful of hit singles in the late 1960s, with the two stand-outs being Cabaret and Step To the Rear.

Her mid-career was not in the national spotlight, but she continued to perform in venues of all sorts. I caught her several times in Okoboji, Iowa where my parents had a summer home. No matter the locale, she brought verve, heart and a consummate professionalism to every performance.

The Mabel Mercer Foundation kicked her career back into overdrive in 2006 with an appearance at Lincoln Center. She has been the toast of New York and cabaret spots all over the country in the past ten plus years.

Her recording of “Too Late Now” by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane is included in the Smithsonian’s Best Compositions of the 20th Century. Chicago Cabaret Professionals bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award upon her in 2012 (I got to hand her the award.) She was inducted into the American Jazz Museum (Kansas City) as a Jazz Legend in 2015.

Along with her impressive performing schedule, she continues to conduct master classes and teaches privately in New York City and around the country. This octogenarian is proving that age is just a number –  if you have the talent and fortitude of Marilyn Maye. You keep singing, lady! And Happy Birthday.

http://www.marilynmaye.com/index.shtml

Lady Gaga’s jazz, musical theater and piano chops

Lady Gaga turns 31 this week.
Is there anything Lady Gaga can’t do?  She has burned up the pop charts with her contemporary songs, worn meat as a costume, recorded standards with Tony Bennett, credibly sung a Sound of Music medley at the Oscars, and played an intriguing role on FX TV’s America Horror Story.

For my purposes, I wanted to know more about her jazz and musical theater inclinations.

Gaga’s dad, Joe Germanotta said she won a jazz vocal competition in her mid-teens and cut her vocal teeth in that genre.  A few short years later, she was enrolled at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts before dropping out to follow her own musical muses.  If you can believe it, she was dropped by Def Jam Recordings. She then worked as a songwriter for Sony/ATV Music Publishing before finding her groove as a performer and visual artist, with hair, makeup and clothing being her personal canvas.

She also plays the piano. And we mean pianos and keyboards of all types. Some look like space ships, one is filled with plastic bubbles, with still others covered in butterflies or veritable gardens. I particularly admire the keyboards that look like a motorcycle or a giant shoe, not to mention the piano that looks like a 20- foot spindly-legged creature or the one that is literally on fire!

Enter Tony Bennett. With their duet recording, Cheek To Cheek, Bennett and Lady Gaga both broke some impressive records. The project won a a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album and debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200. Bennett became the oldest person to reach number one on the charts, and Lady Gaga became the first female artist to achieve three number one hit albums in the 2010 decade. While on a music road trip, I carefully listened to every track and had to admit, this gal has vocal chops, knows how to put across a lyric and she swings.

Gaga makes the occasional appearance, both announced and not, to sing jazz and pop standards. Type Lady Gaga into a search engine with the song titles Someone To Watch Over Me, Orange-Colored Sky, Imagine and You’ve Got a Friend, and enjoy these and other clips on youtube.

Now word comes out that she is slated to be the lead in Bradley Cooper’s movie remake of A Star Is Born, the iconic story previously featuring Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. I wouldn’t be surprised if, down the road, she was announced as the lead in Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera House. You go, Gaga!

Mick Archer’s Piano Bar column featuring Elizabeth Doyle in Chicago Jazz Magazine

Mick Archer has written a lovely article about my encounter with late and great jazz pianist, Marian McPartland and included some of my recollections about playing in piano bars.

http://www.chicagojazz.com/piano-bar-elizabeth-doyle