Conceived by David Grapes and Todd Olson.
Book by Todd Olson.
|MUSICALFARE THEATRE - Buffalo New York
By KATHLEEN RIZZO YOUNG, Buffalo News
|Moon River Cast:
Andrew D. Brown,
Directed by: Todd Olson, Musical Director/Pianist: Randall Kramer, Choreographer: Michael J. Walline, Set Design: Chris Schenk, Lighting Design: Cris Cavanauh, Costume Design: Joyce Schenk.
For Curtain Up!, MusicalFare has reached for a crowd pleaser. Moon River, Johnny Mercer's American Songbook is a musical revue conceived by David Grapes & Todd Olson, directed by Olson and starring Terrie George, Robert J. Cooke, Andrew D. Brown, and Dawn Woollacott. The show, which sports a charming crew of performers' delights its intended audience with a nostalgic cavalcade of some of the 20th century's most familiar pop music
MOON RIVER: Johnny Mercer's American Songbook/MusicalFare Theatre/Daemen College Theatre
By Augustine Warner
He's the unknown of the American Musical Scene, the guy behind some of the greatest music of the 20th Century, yet with a thinly remembered name. Songs like "Satin Doll," "Blues In The Night," "Days Of Wine And Roses," "Laura," "Dream" and "Moon River." They're associated with great names, "Moon River" with Henry Mancini and "Satin Doll" with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
Look carefully at the credits on your old vinyl or CD or program notes, you will find another name, Johnny Mercer. He wrote the lyrics for both of those classics, along with a lot of others for stage, screen and radio, like one of my personal favorites, "Come Rain or Come Shine," with Buffalo native Harold Arlen.
Besides Ellington and Strayhorn and Arlen and Mancini, Mercer worked with others of that small coterie who created our music, Jimmy Van Heusen, E.Y. Harburg, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren and hung out with people like Ira Gershwin. He also founded Capitol Records and restored the career of a guy named Frank Sinatra. That's why Todd Olson and David Grapes are giving Mercer his own show, "Moon River: Johnny Mercer's American Songbook," as they did with "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra."
Olson's here, directing a premiere production of the Mercer show on the MusicalFare stage at Daemen College. It's a must-see show. You just had to sit in the audience and watch grey heads nod, as song after song tripped a memory synapse and someone remembered an incident, a friend, a love, a beautiful day.
Mercer wasn't just a rhythmic thesaurus, since he could sing and also write music (although he couldn't read music) and lyrics for classics like "Something's Gotta Give." "Moon River" is essentially the same format as "My Way," a band on stage with a couple of singers to tell stories and sing.
Over the years, MusicalFare has become more elaborate and this show is an example, with Chris Schenk's porch design reflecting Mercer's southern roots and leaving room around Musical director Randall Kramer's piano for a few Helen Morgan-like songs. Olson and Kramer assembled a good cast for the show, Andrew D. Brown, Robert J. Cooke, Terrie George and Dawn Woollacott.
This show has a little more group effort than many of MusicalFare's past productions, although Mercer's work makes that work so well, songs like "Dream," with Woollacott leading the cast and other songs like "Hooray For Hollywood" and "Accentuate The Positive." Cooke is a real addition to the local stage scene, with his work here and in a recent Buffalo United Artists' production of "Godspell." You can see that in his dancing version of "My Home is In My Shoes."
Choreographer Michael J. Walline has good material here, especially with Cooke and George, a familiar set of legs on local stages (and she sings too). Listen to George with "Empty Tables," sitting on Kramer's piano. Brown delivers a wonderful "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and you will remember Woollacott for "Autumn Leaves."
With the success of "My Way," Olson and Grapes couldn't forget Sinatra, with Cooke delivering "Summerwind," one of those songs the singer never seemed to stop performing. That's because it was a Johnny Mercer song and they were friends and business partners and how could you not sing a song like that?
How could any singer not want to sing songs from "Moon River: Johnny's American Songbook."
'Mercer Cabaret' voices fantastic
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That has to be the mantra over at the Summerfest Cabaret, which has experienced a great degree of success with its well-done musical revues over the past few seasons. They're perfect for the cabaret-like space in the basement of the Burger-Phillips building downtown, offering an intimate and comfortable venue to hear some great musical theater.
Summerfest also hit the jackpot when it started casting Carl Dean, Kristi Tingle Higginbotham, Jan D. Hunter and Lonnie Parsons, who perform together throughout the year as Four for Time. At the cabaret, the quartet started strong with 1999's "All Night Strut," sang the heck out of Frank Sinatra in "My Way" and have pretty much outdone themselves with "Moon River: A Johnny Mercer Cabaret," which opened Thursday night. Part of the appeal of the show is the Savannah-born Mercer's endless hit parade, from the classic title tune to "Java Jive" to "Hooray for Hollywood" to "Dream" to "Sweet Georgia Brown" ... the list of songs he wrote or sang literally goes on and on. But the real joy of the show is watching four of Birmingham's best singers tackle some of theater's best music, even if they are saddled with some dreadful voiceovers (which we hear may already be on the way out) and some brief, cheesy dialogue snippets. At Thursday's opening, the highlights were many, including the intricate Manhattan Transfer-like harmonies the group pulled off with songs like "Glow Worm," "Jeepers Creepers" and "Winter Wonderland" (yes, Mercer wrote the lyrics for that song, too).
Individual triumphs included Higginbotham's beautiful "Skylark," Dean's snappy "G.I. Jive" and dramatic "Drinking Again" and Hunter's torchy, sometimes humorous, "Blues in the Night." No one can hit a low note, or wear a boa, like Jan Hunter. Perhaps most fun of all is Parsons, who has come a long, long way since "All Night Strut." He's always had the voice, but compared to his more dance-friendly compatriots, he was a little stiff. That's all changed, though, and numbers like "That Old Black Magic" and "Goody Goody" showed that he can more than keep up with his castmates.
All of this is played magnificently by music director Derek Jackson, with Maury Levine on drums and Charlie Giambrone on bass. Ed Gurney's comfortable set made to look like the back porch of a Savannah home also adds to the atmosphere.
But the bulk of the credit goes to the singers. Were they any less talented than they are, yet another revue with them would be dreaded. In their case, though, we can't wait.
Site Design &
Copyright © 2001-2002 by Summerwind Productions, Franklin, TN
All Rights Reserved.