Reviews

Stardust Road *****

By: Paulanne Simmons

December 1, 2022: Hoagland Howard Carmichael, more famously known as Hoagy, was one of the most successful Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1930s. Today he is remembered by such standards as “Stardust,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “Heart and Soul.” But Hoagy, who was named after a circus troupe called the “Hoaglands” that stayed at the Carmichael house during his mother’s pregnancy, also worked in construction, a bicycle-chain factory and a slaughterhouse.

Kayla Jenerson, Danielle Herbert and Sara Esty.

By: Paulanne Simmons

December 1, 2022: Hoagland Howard Carmichael, more famously known as Hoagy, was one of the most successful Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1930s. Today he is remembered by such standards as “Stardust,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “Heart and Soul.” But Hoagy, who was named after a circus troupe called the “Hoaglands” that stayed at the Carmichael house during his mother’s pregnancy, also worked in construction, a bicycle-chain factory and a slaughterhouse.

Hoagy grew up poor in Indiana and Montana. Which may be why, although his mother was a pianist who taught Hoagy how to sing and play while he was still young, he became a lawyer after graduating from Indiana University. Fortunately for us, he nevertheless devoted most of his time to music, which eventually became his life’s work.

Cory Lingner

However, unlike most musicals that cover a composer’s songbook, The York Theatre Company’s Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road, does not take us on a biographical journey. Instead, it tells the story of seven friends in five scenes spanning four decades, from the 1920s through the 1950s. And thus, the show is transformed from the formulaic “And then he wrote…” into a whimsical, sentimental and ultimately moving story of friendship.

The seven performers (Markcus Blair, Sara Esty, Dion Simmons Grier, Danielle Herbert, Kayla Jenerson, Cory Lingner and Mike Schwitter) sing and dance up not a storm but a veritable hurricane, whether they’re crooning of belting, waltzing or tapping to Michael Lichtefeld’s nostalgic choreography.  Susan H. Schulman’s direction seamlessly ties the scenes together, while James Morgan and Vincent Gunn’s simple sets tell us exactly where we are.


Mike Schwitter, Sara Esty, Danielle Herbert, Cory Lingner, Markcus Blair, Kayla Jenerson and Dion Simmons Grier.

It all begins in the high-spirited jazz age (Stardust Roadhouse, somewhere in Indiana). Soon we find ourselves in the sophisticated domain of a New York City nightclub (Club Old Man Harlem), then a canteen during WWII (USO Canteen) and finally the glitter of Hollywood (Club Heart and Soul) until the end when we return to the Stardust Roadhouse.

In each location, vignettes reveal the seven friends wooing and winning and wooing and losing; celebrating love and longing for love; filled with regret and filled with confidence. If there is a subject worthy of songs other than love, Hoagy doesn’t seem to have been interested in it. And so Hoagy and his collaborators gave us “Stardust,” “Come Easy Go Easy Love,” “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love,” “The Nearness of You,” “How Little We Know” and “Heart and Soul.”

Danielle Herbert, Sara Esty and Kayla Jenerson.

Some of Carmichael’s songs can also be extremely lighthearted – “Riverboat Shuffle” (Grier and Company), “The Rhumba Jumps” (Lingner) –  which the high-spirited cast fully embraces. But the show really soars when our hearts beat with “Georgia on My Mind” (Grier), or “A World of No Goodbyes” (Schwitter and Company).

“Stardust” tells us “Love is now the stardust of yesterday/The music of the years gone by.” Decades have now passed since Carmichael died. The York Theatre Company is still spreading the stardust.

Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road runs through Dec. 31 at The Theatre at St. Jeans (150 East 76th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues).
Photography: Carol Rosegg