By: Linda Amiel Burns
Lyrics & Lyricists latest offering, "Sweepin’ The Clouds Away" highlights songs of the Great Depression era written to lift the spirits of the country.
The latest offering of the acclaimed Lyrics & Lyricist Series at the 92St Y was entitled, "Sweeping’ The Clouds Away: Boom, Bust and High Spirits" bringing attention to a period of transition in American life ranging from the "boom times and boundless optimism of the late 1920’s to the economic distress that followed the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression of the 1930’s."
The stage at the 92nd Y’s Kaufman Hall was rocking with the sensational sounds of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Giordano is a big-band historian and collector with more than 60,000 scores in his collection and he and The Nighthawks are renowned for their commitment to preserving and authentically presenting 1920s and 1930s jazz and popular music. Serving as co-music director and pianist for the program was Peter Yarin who has been with the Nighthawks for 9 years and actor/singer David Garrison directed the show.
Noted music historian and author, Robert Kimball, served as the artistic director, writer and host/narrator of the show. His informative patter and historial facts kept the proceedings running smoothly. In the program notes, Kimball writes, "while many of the songs of the new era remained relentlessly cheerful, some reflected a new realism – a more hardheaded look at love and loss that was reflective of economic and social dislocation." Yet even as the Depression got worse, the "exuberant, life-affirming voices of America’s songwriters could not dampen the public’s desire for entertainment that would lift its spirits."
The first-rate cast included some of the best talent in theater and cabaret today: Christine Andreas, Klea Blackhurst, Erin Dilly, John Treacy Egan and Jason Graae. The entire cast opened the show with the lively "Great Day" from the 1929 musical of the same name (music by Vincent Youmans, lyrics by William Rose and Edward Eliscu) followed by "Happy Days Are Here Again" (Jack Yellen & Milton Ager) written in the same year. After the opening numbers all the songs presented were from 1930 on, penned after the crash. Erin shined on "Sunny Side of the Street," "Ten Cents a Dance" and the tender "Something To Remember You by." Christine is always remarkable and her renditions of "Body & Soul," "Love For Sale" and "But Not For Me" were highlights of the show. Klea reproduced Merman’s big hit "I Got Rhythm," and also sang "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries" and Kalmar and Ruby’s "Three Little Words" to the amazing Jason Graae who wowed the audience every time he performed, especially in his campy "Just a Gigolo" and "My Baby Just Cares For Me." John’s "Puttin’ On the Ritz" was perfect singing the two versions, one from the 1929 film and rewritten by Irving Berlin for Blue Skies in 1946. The melodic "Time On My Hands" showed off his beautiful singing voice.
Several duets were included and Erin and Jason singing "I’ve Got Five Dollars" was particularly fun. Klea and John sang Kay Swift’s optimistic "Fine & Dandy" and Christine and John showed off their fine vocals in the Gershwin standard "Embraceable You." Vince and The Nighthawks had the crowd tapping their feet with two lively instrumental numbers: "Happy Feet" and Duke Ellington’s "Rockin’ In Rhythm."
The show closed with the entire cast singing a song that is the most requested in piano bars and still popular today "As Time Goes By" written by Herman Hupfeld. It was first used in a musical Everybody’s Welcome in 1931 and became popular in the 1946 film Casablanca. Of course, no L&L would be complete without a sing-a-long and the audience joined in on "Good Night, Sweetheart" introduced by Rudy Vallee in 1931.
There were over 30 plus songs in the show, yet the time seemed to fly by with great performances of these toe-tapping songs that are now classics. It is hoped the future generations will continue to learn and cherish these great songs that represent America’s history and legacy. Thanks to Robert Kimball, Vince Giordano, Deborah Grace Weiner of The 92nd Street Y and all those whose mission is to keep this music alive forever.
The next show in the series – "Rodgers and Hammerstein: Getting To Know You" hosted by Ted Chapin of the R & H Foundation. April 5-7
Visit 92Y.org/lyrics or phone 212 415-5500
Photography: RIchard Termine