October 6-15, 2017
“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!“
American composer, pianist and bandleader, Duke Ellington composed thousands of songs for stage and screen during his 50-year career. Enjoy this concert of the best of the best, including Satin Doll, Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady, It Don’t Mean A Thing (if it Ain’t Got That Swing), Take the “A” Train and so many others.
Ages 10 and older
Friday, October 6, 2017 at 8 pm
Saturday, October 7 at 8 pm
Sunday, October 8 at 2 pm
Wednesday, October 11 at 2 pm
Thursday, October 12 at 2 pm
Friday, October 13 at 8 pm
Saturday, October 14 at 2 & 8 pm
Sunday, October 15 at 2 pm
Tickets start at $34
Age 25 and younger 1/2 price (suitable for 10 and older)
This project is partially supported by a grant from the Evanston Arts Council, a city agency supported by the City of Evanston and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.
Or call (847) 920-5360
Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission
MORE ABOUT THE SHOW
Duke Ellington: a legend in many ways but one
When MUSIC THEATER WORKS presents Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits this October, Ellington will take his place alongside other Broadway legends featured in previous concerts, including George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Jule Styne.
The only trouble is, Duke Ellington never was a Broadway legend! If there was a Great American Songbook Mount Rushmore, he would claim a prominent place…but success in the musical theater was the one thing he did not achieve. Even so, we are not going to let that get in the way of what is sure to be a fabulous concert.
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was the greatest jazz composer of the 20th century, though he preferred to call what he wrote “American music.” Indeed, his compositions blurred the boundaries between the dance hall and the concert hall, and opened a world of possibilities for generations of musicians to follow.
It is hard to overstate the influence Ellington had on virtually every aspect of American music. As a bandleader and pianist, he brought his boldly original and sophisticated brand of jazz to every corner of the country (as well as to Europe, South American, Asia and the Middle East), keeping up a grueling touring schedule for decades. In the course of a 50-year career, he gave more than 20,000 performances. He was also a ubiquitous presence on radio, reaching millions of listeners across the world.
Despite the artistic heights he attained as a composer, he never stopped being a great and beloved popular entertainer, delighting his fans as much with his suave and genial persona as with his virtual hit parade of standards including “Satin Doll,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Mood Indigo.”
Both Broadway attempts fizzle
But success in the musical theater eluded him. He wrote two Broadway shows, neither one a hit. The first, 1946’s Beggar’s Holiday, has a fascinating pedigree. A modern American spin on John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (which also inspired Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, a piece virtually unknown at the time in America), the show boasted book and lyrics by perennial cult favorite John Latouche. It starred the Oklahoma! leading man Alfred Drake and an up-and-coming Zero Mostel, and featured a racially integrated cast, uncommon for the time.
The reviews were mixed, and Beggar’s Holiday folded after a three-month run. Ellington was not tempted to return to Broadway until 1966, when he contributed the score to Pousse-Café, which transplanted the story of the Marlene Dietrich film The Blue Angel to 1920s New Orleans. The critics were even less kind this time around, and the show closed after just three performances.
Out of sight
Why did Ellington fare so poorly on Broadway? It seems he was never willing to stay in one place long enough to master the art of writing for the theater. Instead of being a day-to-day presence on these projects, he would deliver a parcel of songs to his collaborators and then go off on tour with his band, leaving others to do the crucial and time-consuming work of shaping the finished product. Theodore Bikel, star of Pousse-Café, later recalled, “Duke Ellington was nowhere to be found either in the beginning or for any rehearsals.” Ellington was temperamentally unsuited for this very specialized creative endeavor; it was just about the only thing this genius could not do.
So Ellington was not a theater composer. No matter. That is not going to stop MUSIC THEATER WORKS from saluting his inimitable contributions to the Great American Songbook this October when the swinging sounds of Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits fill Nichols Concert Hall. He may not have conquered Broadway, but his songs conquered the world, and that is good enough for us.
Other Duke Ellington hits include
It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
Love You Madly
Just Squeeze Me
Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me
I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
I’m Beginning to See the Light
I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good
Business manager Mike Kotze chats with director Rudy Hogenmiller and music director Joey Zymonas about creating the concert Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits.
Click any photo to view and download a larger image.
Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works,
October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston, IL.
From left: Evan Tyrone Martin, Justin Adair, Martin L. Woods, Jar’Davion Brown and Christian Dillingham (bass) in Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works, October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston, IL.
Photo credit: Brett Beiner
Dawn Bless, Joey Zymonas (piano) and Christian Dillingham (bass) in Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works, October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston, IL.
Photo credit: Brett Beiner
From left: Evan Tyrone Martin, Amanda Horvath, Martin L. Woods, Dawn Bless, Justin Adair, Caitlyn Glennon and Jar’Davion Brown in Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works, October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston, IL.
Photo credit: Brett Beiner
Christian Dllingham (bass) and Caitlyn Glennon in Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works, October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston, IL.
Photo credit: Brett Beiner
Justin Adair, Amanda Horvath and Joey Zymonas (piano) in Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works, October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston, IL.
Photo credit: Brett Beiner
Evan Tyrone Martin and Joey Zymonas (piano) in Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works, October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston, IL.
Photo credit: Brett Beiner
From left: Amanda Horvath, Evan Tyrone Martin, Justin Adair, Dawn Bless, Caitlyn Glennon, Martin L. Woods and Jar’Davion Brown in Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works, October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston, IL.
Photo credit: Brett Beiner
Click above to watch highlights of Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits at Music Theater Works.
Contact: Christopher Riley
Director of Audience and Press Services
(847) 920-5354 ext. 10 (press only)
MUSIC THEATER WORKS presents DUKE ELLINGTON’S GREATEST HITS October 6-15, 2017
Music Theater Works
(formerly Light Opera Works)
DUKE ELLINGTON’S GREATEST HITS
A concert performance
Director – Rudy Hogenmiller
Music Director – Joey Zymonas
Press Opening – Friday, October 6, 2017, at 8 pm
Saturday, October 7, at 8 pm
Sunday, October 8, at 2 pm
Wednesday, October 11, at 2 pm
Thursday, October 12, at 2 pm
Friday, October 13, at 8 pm
Saturday, October 14, at 2 and 8 pm
Sunday, October 15, at 2 pm
Nichols Concert Hall
1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL
Tickets start at $34.
Ages 25 and younger half-price (recommended for 10 and older)
(847) 920-5360 • www.MusicTheaterWorks.com
Evanston, IL: The music of American composer, pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington will be celebrated at Music Theater Works, October 6-15, 2017, at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.
The concert presentation, DUKE ELLINGTON’S GREATEST HITS, includes “Satin Doll,” “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “It Don’t Mean A Thing (if it Ain’t Got That Swing)” and other well-known songs.
The cast is Justin Adair, Dawn Bless, Jar’Davion Brown, Caitlyn Glennon, Amanda Horvath, Evan Tyrone Martin and Martin L. Woods.
The opening night reception for DUKE ELLINGTON’S GREATEST HITS is sponsored by Found Kitchen and Social House, Evanston.
DUKE ELLINGTON’S GREATEST HITS is Music Theater Works’ third production of 2017. The season concludes with PETER PAN (December 23, 2017-January 1, 2018).
Tickets for DUKE ELLINGTON’S GREATEST HITS begin at $34. Ages 25 and younger are half price. To order tickets, or for more information, call the Music Theater Works box office at (847) 920-5360 or order online 24 hours a day at www.MusicTheaterWorks.com
JUSTIN ADAIR returns to Music Theater Works where he was seen last season in LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU: JULE STYNE’S GREATEST HITS and as Older Patrick in MAME. Previous appearances with the company include Sky Masterson in GUYS AND DOLLS, and Lt. Joseph Cable in SOUTH PACIFIC. Most recently, he was seen as Jeff Gillooly in TONYA AND NANCY: THE ROCK OPERA with Underscore Theatre. His Chicago credits include BoHo Theatre’s FUGITIVE SONGS (Jeff nomination), Barrett in Griffin Theatre’s TITANIC (Jeff nomination), Fabrizio in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (Jeff Award) and SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ, both at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater, LES MISERABLES at Drury Lane Theater, and JUNO at TimeLine Theatre. Justin is a graduate of Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts and holds an Associate’s in Fine Arts from the College of DuPage. www.justinadair.com
DAWN BLESS returns to Music Theater Works where she was Little Buttercup in H.M.S PINAFORE and performed in the ROCK OUT benefit concert. Other appearances include #DATEME (Second City), MADAGASCAR (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), MEN OF SOUL (Black Ensemble Theater), THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHEWAN (Cor Theatre), DREAMGIRLS (Porchlight Theater), SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE (Theo Ubique), SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL (West Virginia Public Theater), THE JACKIE WILSON STORY (Black Ensemble Theater), ONCE ON THIS ISLAND (Yellow Alligator Theatre), THE BLACK NATIVITY (Congo Square Theater) and many more. Dawn is a teaching artist in Chicago Public and Charter Schools, as well as half of a comedy duo called TOP HEAVY, and founding member of Chicago vocal jazz quartet THE BRONZEVILLE EXPRESS. She is developing a one-woman show called BILLIE, SARAH, AND ELLA!: A TRIBUTE TO GREAT WOMEN OF JAZZ, to be produced at the Second City Theater.
JAR’DAVION BROWN is making his Music Theater Works debut. New to Chicago, he most recently appeared as the Tinman in THE WIZ with Emerald City Theatre Company and will be returning next year in their productions of MAGIC TREE HOUSE: SHOWTIME WITH SHAKESPEARE and KNUFFLE BUNNY: A CAUTIONARY TALE. Hailing from Florida, he has appeared as a featured vocalist in VEGAS: A NIGHT ON THE STRIP and SOUL OF MOTOR CITY with Stage Door Theatre, SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL (Cat in the Hat), DREAMGIRLS (Jimmy Early), GUYS AND DOLLS (Nicely Nicely Johnson), LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Voice of Audrey II), and SHREK THE MUSCIAL at Quincy Music Theater, and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (Bitelle) with Theatre Tallahassee. He studied vocal performance at Florida A & M University and performed 14 showcases with the hip-hop dance team, Boyz of Poison.
CAITLYN GLENNON returns to Music Theater Works, where she was seen in the ensemble of DIE FLEDERMAUS and CANDIDE (Old Woman understudy). With the Northwestern University Opera Theatre, she performed lead roles in THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (Susanna) and STREET SCENE (Rose Maurrant). Other roles include Peggy Sawyer in 42ND STREET, Hanna Glawari in THE MERRY WIDOW, Magda Sorel in THE CONSUL, Carla Albanese in NINE, and Laurey in OKLAHOMA! Originally from Winter Park, Florida, she holds a B.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon University and an M.M. in vocal performance from Northwestern University. Currently Caitlyn performs interactive singing shows weekly with the Songs By Heart Foundation, an organization which aims to improve the quality of life for persons facing age related memory issues through the power of music.
AMANDA HORVATH returns to Music Theater Works, where she was seen in HOLLYWOOD’S GREATEST SONG HITS, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE MERRY WIDOW, and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. She won a Jeff Award for her performance as Sara in the Chicago premiere of the rock musical MURDER BALLAD (Bailiwick Chicago), and was recently nominated for her Tonya Harding in TONYA & NANCY: THE ROCK OPERA. (Underscore Theatre). Other credits include FOLLIES (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (Writers Theatre), FAR FROM HEAVEN (Porchlight Music Theatre), THE WILD PARTY (Bailiwick Chicago), SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre), and as Mother in RAGTIME (Big Noise Theatre), for which she won a BroadwayWorld Chicago Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She is one of two front-women with the touring tribute band DANCING QUEEN: ABBA SALUTE. Amanda graduated from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University with a B.M. in voice performance.
EVAN TYRONE MARTIN is a Chicago based actor whose credits include Jesus in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Black Theater Alliance Award nomination), Tom Collins in RENT, and King Triton in THE LITTLE MERMAID (Jeff nomination), all at the Paramount Theatre. He was recently seen at the Mercury Theater as Hud in HAIR; other Mercury appearances include I LEFT MY HEART: A SALUTE TO THE MUSIC OF TONY BENNETT (Jeff nomination) and Harpo in THE COLOR PURPLE. At Porchlight Music Theatre, he was Curtis Taylor, Jr. in DREAMGIRLS (BTAA nomination), Raymond Deagan in FAR FROM HEAVEN (Jeff nomination) and Jake in SIDE SHOW (Jeff nomination). He stars in an ongoing one-man show, UNFORGETTABLE: FALLING IN LOVE WITH NAT KING COLE. Evan is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and represented by Paonessa Talent.
MARTIN L. WOODS returns to Music Theater Works, having appeared in GERSHWIN’S GREATEST HITS. Concert work includes the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and other orchestras across the United States, Europe and Bermuda. He appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago in PORGY AND BESS, and was Papageno in THE MAGIC FLUTE and Belcore in THE ELIXIR OF LOVE for Lyric’s Opera in the Neighborhoods program. He has lent background vocals and arrangements to such artists as Michael McDonald, Kim Burrell, Smokie Norful and Heather Headley, and performed studio background vocals for the Paramount film THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS with Beyoncé Knowles. He recently completed a young artist residency with Chicago Opera Theater in conjunction with the Chicago College of Performing Arts’ diploma program. Martin holds a B.A. in Music from Morehouse College in Atlanta and a M.M. from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
Director/Music Director/Choreographer Biographies
RUDY HOGENMILLER (Director), artistic director of Music Theater Works, has directed and choreographed many productions for the company including GYPSY, CANDIDE, DIE FLEDERMAUS, LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU: JULE STYNE’S GREATEST HITS, MAME, MY FAIR LADY, GUYS AND DOLLS, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE FANTASTICKS, THE MERRY WIDOW, COLE PORTER’S GREATEST HITS, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, H.M.S. PINAFORE, OLIVER!, MAN OF LA MANCHA, CAMELOT, BRIGADOON, HELLO, DOLLY!, THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, KISS ME, KATE, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE MIKADO and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Hogenmiller was seen on stage at Music Theater Works in 2014 as Mr. Applegate in DAMN YANKEES, and as the Emcee in CABARET in 2013. He has been recognized with six Joseph Jefferson Awards and 17 nominations for best direction and choreography in Chicago, and has been a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers for more than 35 years.
JOEY ZYMONAS (Music Director), a multi-talented musician, played drums in the last two Music Theater Works fall concerts, LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU: JULE STYNE’S GREATEST HITS and HOLLYWOOD’S GREATEST SONG HITS, as well as GYPSY this past August. He played keyboards for this spring’s production of MARY POPPINS at Mercury Theater. Other recent highlights include drums for A CHRISTMAS SURVIVAL GUIDE, and bass for FIRST DATE, both at Williams Street Repertory, where he also played keyboard and mandolin as well as served as associate conductor for the Midwest premiere of HANDS ON A HARDBODY. At the Woodstock Musical Theatre Company, he was musical director for LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. He is the house pianist for the 1920s-style Members Speakeasy at the Maxwell Mansion in Lake Geneva, and plays regularly across the country with CLOSE TO YOU: THE MUSIC OF THE CARPENTERS.
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Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) is a resident professional not-for-profit theater in Evanston, founded in 1980. The company’s mission is to produce and present musical theater from a variety of world traditions, to engage the community through educational and outreach programs and to train artists in musical theater. All productions are presented in English, with foreign works done in carefully edited modern translations. Maximum scholarship is employed to preserve the original vocal and orchestral material as well as the spirit of the original text whenever possible. Audiences know that at Music Theater Works they will experience repertoire often unavailable on the stages of commercial theaters and opera houses, in modern productions with professional artists and full orchestra.
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Stage and Cinema
October 7, 2017
By Lawrence Bommer
He still got that swing
In his 75 years of marvelous music-making, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington really was American nobility if not royalty. The sultan of swing was also the jazz king, a sophisticate with the common touch who merged Broadway with Main Street, a composer of countless songs that launched dozens of careers. And the Duke is well worth this too-brief song-and-dance salute. Considering that it contains “Sophisticated Lady,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me)”,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” and “Satin Doll,” along with almost two dozen other top tunes, Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits is just that, a classy-sassy showcase for seven excellent artists and a very hot three-man combo.
A concert presentation by Music Theater Works at Evanston’s Nichols Concert Hall, the two-hour tribute is staged by artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller as a free flow of unstoppable charm. Occasionally the performers turn their numbers into a semblance of a story, as the men’s jaunty “Drop Me Off in Harlem” sobers into Jar’Davion Brown’s haunted solo “Perdido” or the seductive “I Didn’t Know About You” soars into “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart.” In “Imagine My Frustration” a suddenly mousy Amanda Horvath has an extended mad scene at a dance joint. But mostly the songs speak for themselves, from their vocalists–and right to us.
It really doesn’t signify a thing if it lacks that swing, to give an uptown paraphrase to Ellington’s suitably suave signature number. It sure means a lot when the women wail “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and the men groove to the well-named “In A Mellow Tone.” Or bounteous Dawn Bless (what a lovely name!) intones and reinvents “In A Sentimental Mood.” Evan Tyrone Martin and Caitlyn Glennon make a jitterbug jamboree out of Ellington’s less-known, juicy-jiving “Bli-Blip.” Martin L. Woods turns “Lush Life” into a soulful soliloquy. Justin Adair’s take on “Prelude to a Kiss” incarnates the risks that heartbreak happens.
The good work here is marred only an imbalance in amplification that makes the voices sound like instruments themselves, the lack of individual mikes for the seven singers making sometimes crucial lyrics sometimes hard to discern. No question, the best sound from this stage comes from the band in the second-act opener, “C Jam Blues,” a terrific chance for music director Joey Zymonas, Christian Dillingham, and Phillip Fornett to riff as one.
A few songs not by His Grace are certainly about him, like Caitlyn Glennon’s bouncy “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” Billy Strayhorn’s credo “Something To Live For,” or the finale “Sir Duke,” infectious homage by Stevie Wonder. And one number, the almost operatic and harmonic “Come Sunday,” seems uncharacteristically solemn for a composer whose usual request is “Hit Me With a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce.”
Sensuous, cosmopolitan, silky-smooth and beyond sweet, 43 years after the composer’s death, these hits fully justify their joy. We’re still taking the “A” Train.
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Around the Town Chicago
October 10, 2017
By Jeffrey Leibham
“Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits” is, quite simply, what the title says that it is. Nearly 30 of the songs which Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington either wrote or co-wrote the music, lyrics or made popular as a bandleader in more than 20,000 performances during the course of his entire career are presented in an absolutely enjoyable and sophisticated evening of entertainment. Director Rudy Hogenmiller, who is also the Artistic Director of Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) has assembled top notch talent throughout this production. One thing that the program does not credit is who exactly “conceived” this event. It seems pretty clear that Mr. Hogenmiller worked very closely with Music Director Joey Zymonas in choosing the musical selections. Thankfully the program does list all of the songs in the order that they are performed and is very detailed in giving credit to the composer and lyricist responsible for it. There is no scripted dialogue between any of the songs nor are any of them “set up” with trivia about who originally recorded it, what year it was popularized, etc. Just all of Mr. Ellington’s magical and enrapturing music to behold. There is a nice half-page biography about Duke Ellington in the program for those of you who may be unfamiliar with his legacy.
The evening opens with three musicians walking onto the stage. Seated at the piano is Mr. Zymonas, who conducts the entire performance from the keyboard with the assistance of his iPad, which contains the score. Bassist Christian Dillingham and drummer Phillip Fornett complete the musical trio. They begin Part One with “Take the ‘A’ Train,” which has a lengthy musical introduction before the seven spectacular vocalists take the stage in song. These performers are Justin Adair, Dawn Bless, Jar’Davion Brown, Caitlyn Glennon, Amanda Horvath, Evan Tyrone Martin and Martin L. Woods. The real beauty of this show is that all of these performers get to shine in at least one solo number, and many are paired into lovely duets or trios in some cases when they are not all on stage together. Also, the songs are arranged in such a fashion that the pacing is perfect and the time just flies by. It certainly will leave the audience wanting more.
Highlights of Part One are a smoky version of “I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” by Ms. Glennon and Ms. Bless, adorned with a lovely black feathered headdress and boa singing “In a Sentimental Mood.” I am not quite sure if anyone has ever heard a more unique version of the Billy Strayhorn classic “Lush Life” than the one presented here. Mr. Woods delivers a very disciplined interpretation in a drastically slower tempo than is customary for this song. With his impeccable diction he creates a moment that resonates with the crowd. “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” finds Ms. Horvath sparkling almost as much as the jewelry she is bedecked with and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” starts out as a trio with Ms. Bless, Mr. Martin and Mr. Woods that quickly has the two gentlemen regretting the fact that they let the woman slip away from them, in true “the gal that got away” fashion. All three of the ladies share the stage for “I’m Beginning to See the Light” before Mr. Brown performs “Caravan,” a song that Mr. Ellington co-wrote with Juan Tizol, a Puerto Rican trombonist who was a member of Ellington’s band. (Tizol’s song “Perdido” is presented in Part Two of this show). The exotic “Caravan” has Mr. Brown doing some sultry choreography accompanied by a small percussion instrument that he holds in his hand. Ms. Glennon has some flirtatious interplay with the three musicians on “I’m Just a Lucky So and So” while Mr. Martin illustrates his very strong musical theater background on “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” as he convincingly acts out that piece. The first act comes to a conclusion as Ms. Bless, supported only by the piano on her solo introduction, is joined by the entire cast for a rousing “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” which has the men on one side of the stage and the ladies on the other in an almost musical duel.
Part Two opens with just the musicians playing “C Jam Blues,” which allows them all to enjoy a solo to demonstrate their prodigious talents. “I Didn’t Know About You” features a very strong Mr. Martin once again finding true emotion in his rendition and also permits him to show off his warm falsetto in it’s concluding measures. “In a Mellow Tone” has all four of the gentlemen on stage, having shed their formal tuxedo jackets and wearing crisply pressed white vests for a more casual mode. They gather round Mr. Adair, who plays the song on a guitar and is supported by Mr. Zymonas on electric bass guitar. The vivacious Ms. Glennon does wonders with “Hit Me With a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce” and while she may look like she is channelling her inner Billie Holliday in ermine shawl and white gardenias in her hair, Ms. Bless is sure to make her version of “(In My) Solitude” all her own. “Everything But You” has Mr. Brown showing off his whistling skills and Mr. Martin and Ms. Glennon endure verbal acrobatics (and some nice dance moves as well) on “Bli-Blip.” Mr. Woods returns with a clarion “Sophisticated Lady” and Mr. Adair shines with “Something to Live For,” which was also written by Billy Strayhorn. You will hear much sadness in this song and be sure to listen closely to the lyrics. Strayhorn, who was a jazz composer, pianist, lyricist and arranger and also a successful collaborator and close friend of Duke Ellington, was also a meloncholy and closeted genius. “Come Sunday” has the entire company once again back on stage and this spiritual-like hymn nearly raises the roof off of the intimate and cozy Nichols Concert Hall. After a reprise of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” the encore is a musical selection not written by Duke Ellington but in honor of him: “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder.
If there is one misstep in this entire show it would have to be in the inclusion of the song “Imagine My Frustration.” Ms. Horvath is forced to act the part of the nerdy girl at the high school prom who can’t find anyone to dance with her. Incidentally, it is also the only time that the costumes deviate from the monochromatic color scheme of black, white or brushed and muted greys. Ms. Horvath arrives in a metallic copper skirt with red-framed eye glasses. It is easy to forgive, nonetheless, as the song does encapsulate the later period of Ellington’s compositions and it incorporates some be-bop melodies.
There is one running gag throughout this show which is very funny and endearing. Mr. Brown many times (at the end of Part One, during his moments paired with the other men and at the very end of the show) steals the spotlight by exaggerating his dance movements and reluctance to leave the stage. It just makes for a clever through line to tie this mesmerizing evening together, and Mr. Brown is a natural performer who will bring a smile to your face.
The members of a production team that never get mentioned, many times because they may not be utilized, are the stylists. Jane DeBondt and Jesus Perez have done an outstanding job to make everyone look truly elegant. Also, credit Connor O. Speck for wardrobe that drapes the ladies in countless gorgeous evening gowns and the men in their best tie and tails. They have guaranteed that this evening has the sly debonair quality that it requires to be the smashing success that it is.
The set is simply two large canvas placards with photographs of Duke Ellington himself. On the left we see Mr. Ellington as a young man, dressed in black evening jacket, white tie and a top hat jauntily tilted upon his head. His eyes are bright with hope and his subtle smirk is spry. The photograph on the right is one of Mr. Ellington towards the end of his fifty-year career, leaning against the music rack of his grand piano in a reflective, somber and contemplative mood. Acting as two book ends, the action that unfolds between them is an incredible tribute to the man who many consider to be the greatest jazz composer of the twentieth century. This show is exemplary. I’m sure that “Duke” would approve.
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Picture this Post
October 10, 2017
By Ann Boland
Lots of Great Music in a Short Evening
It was appropriate that Music Theater Works chose a renovated church to pay homage to an American musical deity. The evening was bright and snappy, the three musicians both led and supported the seven singers, who performed Ellington’s hits as solos, duets, trios and ensemble.
MUSIC THEATER WORKS Serves Up Favorites for Everyone
Everyone has personal favorites, and you will find them here. Numbers flowed one into the other: Love You Madly (lyrics by Duke Ellington) sung as a saucy duet by Dawn Bless and Jar’Davion Brown, flowed into Satin Doll (lyrics by Johnny Mercer). Martin L. Woods’s solo of Lush Life (music and lyrics by Billy Strayhorn) was breathtaking. Dawn Bless, with her Ella Fitzgerald-like vocal range and agility, torched In My Solitude (lyrics by Eddie DeLange and Irving Mills). Evan Tyrone Martin’s clear tenor illuminated I Didn’t Know About You (lyrics by Bob Russell). Amanda Horvath’s comic sparkle put a fresh spin on Imagine my Frustration (lyrics by Billy Strayhorn and Gerald Wilson). Caitlyn Glennon’s star turn was on Hit Me With a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce (lyrics by Don George). Justin Adair’s lyrical tenor showcased Something to Live For (music and lyrics by Billy Strayhorn).
Joey Zymonas Music Director and Rudy Hogenmiller Director Craft a Solid Production
Musical Director, Joey Zymonas, an extraordinary jazz pianist, had the unenviable task of recreating the style of pianist Duke Ellington. He carefully orchestrated the flow of songs and edited their length to include 31 pieces in 80 minutes. If anything, individual songs, especially ensemble numbers, could have been longer because the audience enjoyed them so much. The evening was billed as two hours, with 15 minutes intermission. The performance ran 95 minutes with intermission.
Costumes Take You to the Cotton Club
Though the Nichols Concert Hall’s stage was plain, Jane DeBondt and Jesus Perez’s costumes put the performers at the Cotton Club in the 30’s. The men were in tuxedos in the first half and tails for part of the second half—classy. The women’s dresses were slinky, sexy and fun, shine and sparkle, black and silver, with lots of costume changes.
From this writer’s viewpoint, the portable microphones were not an improvement. They seemed to give the music a hard, artificial tone. In a hall this small, why not use natural sound? OK, lots of seniors in the audience likely appreciated the bright, harsh sound because they can hear better. For some of us, there is also an inherent difficulty in reproducing the lush fullness of Ellington’s sound with just a piano, bass violin and drummer. Time to haul out the old 33’s and listen to full orchestra.
Join the MUSIC THEATER WORKS for a Great Night in Evanston
IMHO, Music Theater Works does a good job of paying tribute to Duke Ellington, with the limitations noted above. An evening in Evanston is a pleasure. Convenient, low cost parking and loads of great restaurants in walking distance. Enjoyable date night for all ages.