Though most consider him a jazz master, Ellington is in a category by himself…he called it “beyond category.” A pianist, composer and bandleader, Ellington did it all. He wrote more than a thousand compositions, many now considered standards of the Great American Songbook. His style often reflected his collaborators, whether that collaborator was a songwriting partner or a particularly talented musician in his big band.
Duke Ellington was born in Washington, D.C., the grandson of slaves, in 1899. He learned music from his parents, both of whom were pianists. His mother instilled in him the grace and elegance he became known for throughout his storied career. He was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and nurtured many young talents, including Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, and Billy Strayhorn, who became his closest collaborator.
He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966 and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1969, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At his funeral in 1974, attended by 12,000 people, Ella Fitzgerald said it all: “A genius has passed.” His music lives on as music lovers around the world listen to “Mood Indigo,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” or “Take the A Train.”
Bayou City Concert Musicals was proud to open its 2014-15 season with the Houston premiere of NEW GIRL IN TOWN, the 1957 Tony Award-nominated musical by Broadway master George Abbott and then-newcomer Bob Merrill, who went on to more Broadway fame as the composer of FUNNY GIRL.
NEW GIRL IN TOWN is loosely based on Eugene O’Neill’s 1921 play, ANNA CHRISTIE, but since this is a George Abbott show, “loosely” is the operative word. Mr. Abbott would never tolerate the gloom and doom of the original, so NEW GIRL IN TOWN is at its core a moving story of family and love wrapped in a musical comedy.
The story is a simple one: Anna Christophersen returns to her father’s home after fifteen years to pick up the pieces of her life. She learns to fit in and even falls in love with a handsome sailor until her father’s friend, Marthy, spills the truth about Anna’s past, nearly destroying her dream of happiness.
Originally written for Gwen Verdon, the part of Anna was a perfect fit for Houston’s own Krissy Richmond, who followed her tenure as a principal dancer for Houston Ballet with a successful career on Broadway. Since her return to Houston, Krissy has choreographed several BCCM shows and starred as Dorothy in BCCM’s 2009 production of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.
John Gremillion returned to the BCCM stage as Mat Burke, the sailor who falls in love with Anna. Julliard-trained, John is one of Houston’s most accomplished actors on both the musical and dramatic stage.
Bayou City Concert Musicals was honored to be asked by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to provide the musical entertainment for the opening night of the annual YULETIDE NIGHTS: SPIRITS OF HOLIDAYS PAST celebration at the historic Bayou Bend home of the late Ima Hogg. This year, the exhibition featured a children’s Christmas party at Andrew Jackson’s White House, a children’s tea and dancing party in 1700s Philadelphia, and a punch party for the Sons of Liberty in pre-Revolutionary Boston.
As we delighted at the festive lights, decorations, and holiday room settings that brought Early American holiday celebrations to life, we enjoyed some of Houston’s favorite musical theatre performers (Jennifer Gilbert, John Gremillion, Joe Kirkendall, Joel Sandel, and Tamara Siler) singing from the Great American Christmas Songbook. We heard our favorites from Broadway and the movies with a few traditional tunes thrown in for good measure, all under the direction of BCCM Musical Director Michael Mertz.
The 2015 BCCM Cabaret series opened on Saturday, February 21, 2015, featuring the songs of the iconic team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. MY ROMANCE: THE SONGBOOK OF RODGERS & HART took us from “There’s a Small Hotel” through “Johnny One Note” and “Little Girl Blue” all the way to “I Wish I Were in Love Again.”
This wonderful music was sung by Zach Bryant, Adam Gibbs, Grace Givens, Danica Dawn Johnston, Amanda Passanante, Joel Sandel, and Susan Shofner. With musical direction by Michael Mertz and a stroll through the history of Rodgers & Hart by BCCM Artistic Director Paul Hope, the evening was a music lover’s delight.
Audiences joined Bayou City Concert Musicals for RIDIN’ HIGH—COLE PORTER IN THE 1930s at the Performance Centre of the Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, May 16-18, 2015.
One of America’s all-time favorite songwriters, Cole Porter was, indeed, “ridin’ high” in the 1930s. The master of memorable tunes and sophisticated (some might even say risqué) lyrics wrote hit after hit for Broadway and Hollywood beginning with one of Porter’s personal favorites, Love For Sale, in 1930 for the Broadway show, THE NEW YORKERS. The decade was perhaps Porter’s most creative with songs including “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”, “Let’s Do It”, “You’re The Top”, “Just One of Those Things”, “Begin the Beguine”, and “Night and Day” from his Broadway hits and “You’d Be So Easy to Love”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “In the Still of the Night”, and even “Don’t Fence Me In” for the movies.
Bayou City Concert Musicals kicked off its 2013-14 season with a fully-staged concert version of the classic musical THE PAJAMA GAME, for five performances at the Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin, September 12-15, 2013. “It’s fitting,” says BCCM Artistic Director Paul Hope, “that BCCM will begin a series of shows from the 1950s with the quintessential American musical comedy.”
Based on Richard Bissell’s novel 7 ½ Cents, THE PAJAMA GAME is the story of worker against management, both in a pay raise fight and in a budding romance.
The original Broadway production premiered on May 13, 1954, and ran for 1,063 performances. It won the Tony Award in 1954 for Best Musical. Its most recent Broadway revival in 2006 won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. The 1957 film version of The Pajama Game starred Doris Day, John Raitt and the rest of the Broadway cast, and is a perennial favorite of musical film buffs.
The BCCM production featured a large cast of Houston’s finest singing and dancing talent. Artistic Director Paul Hope says the production reunited Beth Lazarou and Cole Ryden, who won praise for their roles as the young lovers in BCCM’s 2011 production of FINIAN’S RAINBOW. Houston favorites Susan Shofner, Jon Egging and Jennifer Gilbert rounded out the featured cast. Artistic Director Paul Hope directed BCCM’s production, with musical director Michael Mertz and conductor Dominique Røyem. Melissa Pritchett and Krissy Richmond provided choreography.
THE PAJAMA GAME features an energetic score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross that includes Hey There, Once A Year Day, Steam Heat and Hernando’s Hideaway. Hope says THE PAJAMA GAME is “one of those rare musicals where every number is a home run.”
Proceeds from Bayou City Concert Musicals’ production of THE PAJAMA GAME benefitted the Tim Harris Memorial Fund, which supports local musicians who have suffered catastrophic illness or injury.
Bayou City Concert Musicals is funded in part by grants from the Cullen Trust for the Performing Arts and the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance.
CHEEK TO CHEEK—IRVING BERLIN IN THE 1930s featured Berlin’s hits from the golden age of Broadway and Hollywood musicals. This most American songwriter produced some of his greatest songs during the 1930s, including Easter Parade, I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Heat Wave, and God Bless America. BCCM presented CHEEK TO CHEEK—IRVING BERLIN IN THE 1930s February 3, 10, & 17, 2014, at the Performance Centre at the Ensemble Theatre.
Best known for composing Over the Rainbow and the other songs in The Wizard of Oz, Harold Arlen’s catalogue of hits includes Stormy Weather, That Old Black Magic, Blues in the Night, and Paper Moon.
BCCM presented LET’S FALL IN LOVE: THE SONGS OF HAROLD ARLEN May 5, 12 & 19, 2014, at the Performance Centre at the Ensemble Theatre.
Bayou City Concert Musicals kicked off its 2012-13 season with 1943’s ONE TOUCH OF VENUS. “It seems strange,” says BCCM Artistic Director Paul Hope, “that a show written in the 1940s can be a Houston premiere, but ONE TOUCH OF VENUS has never before been seen on a Houston stage. That’s a sad oversight BCCM will correct in September.”
With music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash and book by S.J. Perelman, ONE TOUCH OF VENUS is the story of the legendary statue as she comes to life and falls in love with an ordinary guy.
BCCM Artistic Director Paul Hope once again put together an outstanding team, both off-stage and on, for the Houston premiere of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, September 6-9, 2012, at the Heinen Theatre. Musical Director Michael Mertz returned after his much-praised work on FINIAN’S RAINBOW. The ballet-infused choreography was designed by the talented Krissy Richmond. And what would a BCCM show be without Conductor Dominique Røyem leading the orchestra?
The cast was testament to the depth of musical theatre talent in Houston. Danica Dawn Johnston brought her beautiful voice and her impeccable comic timing to the lead role of Venus. Calling Rob Flebbe, who played Rodney, the barber who falls in love with his Venus, a triple threat probably underestimates him. In addition to being a talented actor, a fine singer and a superb dancer, Rob is also an accomplished choreographer who staged many of the musical sequences in BCCM’s 2011 production of FINIAN’S RAINBOW.
The supporting cast was equally strong, featuring return appearances by Susan O. Koozin, Susan Draper, and BCCM cabaret favorite Grace Givens. Joe Kirkendall, one of Houston’s finest actors, made his BCCM debut as art connoisseur Whitelaw Savory.
ONE TOUCH OF VENUS was presented through special arrangement with R & H Theatricals: www.rnh.com
Bayou City Concert Musicals’ popular cabaret series has focused on Broadway. Maybe a song or two, here and there, had its start on the silver screen, but for the most part the streets of New York have been the home for the composers and lyricists the cabarets have featured. But just as the Great American Songbook isn’t limited to the tunes of the Great White Way and Tin Pan Alley, neither is BCCM.
For its February 2013 cabaret, BCCM followed Jerome Kern, already a major figure in American music, as he moved his talents to Hollywood in 1935. It didn’t take him long to feel right at home. He and lyricist Dorothy Fields won the 1936 Academy Award for best song with The Way You Look Tonight from the movie SWING TIME. Kern returned to Broadway only once, in 1939, with VERY WARM FOR MAY, a less-than-great show that included one of his greatest songs, All The Things You Are. Movies became the medium for his biggest hits, including A Fine Romance, I Won’t Dance, Long Ago and Far Away, and The Last Time I Saw Paris (for which he won his second Academy Award in 1941).
BCCM presented JEROME KERN IN HOLLYWOOD February 4, 11, 18 & 25, 2013, at the Performance Centre at the Ensemble Theatre.
The May cabaret went bi-coastal as BCCM focused on the work of Arthur Schwartz. Schwartz may be the best American composer whose name you don’t know. Schwartz wrote for both the Broadway stage and the movies, collaborating with some of the best lyricists of all time. For Broadway, he produced such standards as I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan and Dancing in the Dark. Like Jerome Kern, Arthur Schwartz won two Academy Awards, the first in 1944 for They’re Either Too Young or Too Old from THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS. His second Oscar came in 1948 for A Gal in Calico from the film THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL. In 1990, 16 years after his death, his song That’s Entertainment was named the most performed feature film standard by ASCAP.
BCCM presented ALONE TOGETHER: THE SONGS OF ARTHUR SCHWARTZ May 6, 13 & 20, 2013, at the Performance Centre at the Ensemble Theatre.
Based on the 1960 Academy Award-winning movie The Apartment, PROMISES, PROMISES took us back to mid-Twentieth Century America and the world of the grey flannel suited men and the women they pursued. Chuck Baxter works as an accountant for a New York insurance company. He longs for romance and for a promotion. Since the girls seem to ignore him, he opts for the promotion using his only asset, his apartment, which he lends out to company executives for, shall we say, some afternoon delight.
When his boss, Mr. Sheldrake, promotes Chuck with the agreement he gets exclusive use of the apartment for his affair, Chuck agrees…only to realize that Sheldrake’s mistress is Fran Kubelik, the girl of Chuck’s dreams. The original Broadway 1968 production of PROMISES, PROMISES was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won two. The 2010 Broadway revival was nominated for four Tonys and won one.
Two of Houston’s favorite musical actors heaedd the PROMISES, PROMISES cast. Dylan Godwin took on the role of Chuck and John Gremillion played Mr. Sheldrake. Katie Fridsma made her BCCM debut as Fran Kubelik.
BCCM Artistic Director Paul Hope directed BCCM’s production with co-director Mitchell Greco, musical director Michael Mertz, conductor Dr. Dominique Røyem, and choreographer Melissa Pritchett.
BCCM’s production of PROMISES, PROMISES was at the Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin, for five performances: September 15 – September 18, 2016.
Proceeds from Bayou City Concert Musicals’ production of PROMISES, PROMISES benefited the Tim Harris Memorial Fund and The Actors’ Fund. Both organizations support performers who have suffered catastrophic illness or injury.
The distinctive jazz-influenced style of Burt Bacharach and Hal David is immediately recognizable and was recorded by the biggest music stars of the 1960s and 70s, including Cher, Johnny Mathis, The Carpenters, Aretha Franklin, B.J. Thomas, Tom Jones, Jackie DeShannon, and of course, Dionne Warwick. Even The Beatles recorded a Bacharach/David song (“Baby, It’s You”).
Bacharach and David began their collaboration in 1957 at the storied Brill Building in New York City. Their first hit, “The Story of My Life,” was recorded by country music star Marty Robbins and soon climbed to #1 on the country charts. Their next effort proved the range of the talented young duo. “Magic Moments” was a big 1957 hit for crooner Perry Como. Once the two forged an exclusive writing partnership in 1963, the hits flowed, among them “Blue on Blue,” “The Look of Love,” “Wishing and Hoping,” “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” “Always Something There To Remind Me,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” and including an incredible 38 hit singles for Dionne Warwick.
Burt Bacharach and Hal David were awarded the 2011 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the first and currently the only songwriting team to be so honored.
“…a multi-faceted gem…sparkled with personality and talent. [Paul] Hope worked wonders adapting the ambitious show.” — Everett Evans, Houston Chronicle
“…as richly realized as any in recent memory. …stirring testament to the depth of talent found in the Bayou City, as well as their matchless star wattage.” — D.L. Groover, OutSmart Magazine
“…a fresh, intimate look at this 1992 Tony Award® winner. …everything a contemporary musical should be, but rarely is.” — Everett Evans, Houston Chronicle
SHE LOVES ME (2003)
“…everything a musical should be… a talented and personable company…” — Everett Evans, Houston Chronicle
70, GIRLS, 70 (2004)
“…many standout numbers and comic bits… Joshua Wright brings supple voice and live moves to Go Visit Your Grandmother, teamed with Nancy Taylor’s spry Granny, matching Wright’s taps on her walker for a show-stopping duet.” — Everett Evans, Houston Chronicle
“…darkly brilliant… potent, goosebump raising moments, not only in the material, but the performances…” — Everett Evans, Houston Chronicle
“…exceptional, knockout cast under Paul Hope’s uncomparably fluid direction…” — D.L. Groover, Houston Press
“…classy, clever, beautifully put together… incredibly cast by a who’s who of Houston musical glitterati…a landslide victory for everyone.” — D.L. Groover, Houston Press