“MAKIN’ WHOOPEE: Walter Donaldson, Gus Kahn and the Jazz Age.”
By Linda Amiel Burns
The Lyrics & Lyricist Series at The 92nd St Y’s Kaufman Hall opened its new season on January 7-9 with “Makin’ Whoopee: Walter Donaldson, Gus Kahn and the Jazz Age,” a tuneful, toe-tapping concert featuring great singers and songs. The series artistic director, Deborah Grace Winer, introduced music historian Robert Kimball who served as narrator and producer. The show opened with the terrific Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks, a renowned 11-piece band who specializes in playing original arrangements from the 20’s & 30’s, playing an overture of the great material that was to come. The cast couldn’t have been more perfect with Christine Andreas, Jason Graae, Laura Osnes and Howard McGillin, and they made every song a showstopper.
Gus Kahn, the lyricist, was born in 1886 in Germany but moved to Chicago with his family at age 5. Walter Donaldson was born in Brooklyn in 1893 and learned from his mother who was a classically trained pianist and music teacher. Gus Kahn’s first hit in 1921 was “Ain’t We Got Fun” with music by Richard Whiting and the cast opened with a lively rendition of this classic.
Donaldson’s first hit “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm” (1919) a novelty song with lyrics by Same Lewis & Joe Young performed with comic gusto by Jason Graae. Although they wrote with others over the years, the concert concentrated on their successful partnership including their first hit together that was a tribute to the soldiers who fought in WW11 “My Buddy” (1922) sung by the silver-voice Howard McGillin. Every song was a gem, especially Christine Andreas singing that standard “It Had To Be You” (1924). Sometimes Donaldson wrote music and lyrics as in “Borneo” (1928) played by The Nighthawks, “At Sundown” (1927) and “Little White Lies” (1930). The last two sung by guest artists William & Joan Bolcom. The first act closed with Jolsen’s big hit “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goodbye) from the 1921 musical Bombo sung by the entire cast.
The second act opened with the cast singing “Carolina in the Morning” that great hit from The Passing Show of 1922. Laura & Jason dueted on “You’re Driving Me Crazy” 1930 and the Nighthawks wowed the audience with “T’aint No Sin To Dance Around in Your Bones.” Laura Osnes sang “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (1931) that is still popular today. Christine sang a rousing
“San Francisco,” the title song from the film with Clark Gable. The team wrote for Ziegfield and Howard sang the lush ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream” (music by Nacio Herb Brown). The Bolcoms sang “Makin’ Whoopee” and the screen came down for the audience to join in a sing-a-long to this song about the perils of married life. From “Whoopee” came a great hit for the star Ruth Etting “Love Me or Leave Me” and a song was added for the film, “My Baby Just Cares For Me” sung by Jason and the cast. The show closed with the beautiful “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (1924) with music by Isham Jones. Kahn and Donaldson died seven years apart, both at only 54 years of age.
Congratulations to everyone associated with this fabulous program.
They make it look so easy – all you have to do is get a fantastic and original band such as Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks with amazing arrangements and musicianship, then choose some of the greatest songs of the 20th century written by these legendary composers, and cast some of the best and most talented singers in the business, add splendid direction by Patricia Wilcox, and you have one of the most remarkable programs that L & L has put on. It doesn’t get better than this!
Photography: Cory Weaver
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