Amid Tributes and Concerts, George Gershwin Turns 100, Sept. 26

News   Amid Tributes and Concerts, George Gershwin Turns 100, Sept. 26 The centennial celebration has been going on for nearly two years, but George Gershwin will finally reach the 100-year mark on Sat., Sept. 26. Since his brother Ira's centennial on Dec. 6, 1996, the memory and work of the brothers Gershwin have been feted and honored across the nation and around the world, from Carnegie Hall to Kennedy Center, Paris to London.

The centennial celebration has been going on for nearly two years, but George Gershwin will finally reach the 100-year mark on Sat., Sept. 26. Since his brother Ira's centennial on Dec. 6, 1996, the memory and work of the brothers Gershwin have been feted and honored across the nation and around the world, from Carnegie Hall to Kennedy Center, Paris to London.

"Because of the uniqueness of George and Ira as brothers and collaborators, we wanted to combine the centennials rather than celebrate them separately," said Marc Gershwin, co-trustee with Leopold Godowsky of the Gershwin Family Trust. Both are nephews of George and Ira. "Our feeling is that these people were collaborators, living next door to each other or across the street from each other."

"I hope that [the celebration has] done them the honor that they deserve and honored the contributions that they made," Godowsky told Playbill On Line. "George and Ira's songs will live forever, there's no question in my mind, as long as humanity exists."

Gershwin and Godowsky have worked closely with most of the participants in the Gershwin celebration since the centennial began. The trust is a full time job for Leopold, who, like his uncles, is also a noted composer and performer. Marc has also been heavily involved, though he holds down a day job as stockbroker. They have done their best to attend as many of the Gershwin-related events which have crowded the calendar in recent months. On Sept. 18, for instance, Marc had dinner with the Mayor of Paris and watched the lights on the Place De L'Hotel De Ville De Paris turn blue in honor of the composer of Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris.

For both, however, one of the favorite Gershwin outings was Hope Clarke's new ballet based on Porgy and Bess, which premiered at the Kennedy Center earlier this month. "The whole thing was just wonderful," said Godowsky. "Everything was strong. The treatment of the music worked beautifully. The choreography was so suitable to the story and the characters. Its was so much better than, say, Balachine, who took a more classical approach to the music." There's little chance Marc and Leopold will get a rest anytime soon. The birthday passes, but the Gershwin-fest goes on. Upcoming events include a concert by the San Francisco Symphony at Kennedy Center on Sept. 26; an Oct. 4 event at London's Palladium, to be broadcast on the BBC, featuring such singers as Elaine Page, Maureen McGovern, and Cliff Richard; a four day series of seminars at Brooklyn College Nov. 4-8; a concert version of Of Thee I Sing at the University of California- Los Angeles' Freud Hall, Nov. 11-12; and a Gershwin recital featuring William Bolcum and Joan Morris at the Metropolitan Opera, Nov. 19.

George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn in 1898 and died in 1937 at the age of 38. His works for the theatre include the musicals Girl Crazy, Strike Up the Band, and Of Thee I Sing. Dozens of his songs have become standards, including "Someone to Watch Over Me," "I Got Rhythm," and "But Not for Me."

Following are various other Gershwin-related happening, previously reported by Playbill On-Line:

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Legendary chanteuse Julie Wilson is devoting her current cabaret show to the music of George Gershwin. The show, titled "Of Thee I Sing -- George Gershwin at 100," debuted at Michael's Pub in Manhattan Sept. 22 -- just a few nights shy of the 100 year mark.

Wilson's show christens Michael's Pub's new location in the Park Restaurant at the Lombardy Hotel (109 E. 56th St., between Park and Lexington avenues). Wilson, the recipient of the Manhattan Association of Clubs & Cabarets Lifetime Achievement Award, first appeared at the night spot in 1984. Accompanying her will be William Roy.

"Of Thee I Sing" is an open run with performances Tuesday through Saturday at 9 and 11 PM. For information, call (212) 758-2272.

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An American in Paris may soon find its way to Broadway.

Pace Theatrical Group Inc. and Jujamcyn Theatre are planning a new musical based on the George Gershwin 1928 composition, Marc Gershwin, co-trustee of the Gershwin Family Trust, told Playbill On-Line (Sept. 18). The show is tentatively projected for the 1999-2000 season.

Gershwin, who is the son of Arthur Gershwin and nephew to George and Ira, said the musical would draw its inspiration from the original music and not the 1951 Gene Kelly-Vincente Minnelli movie.

"The history of going from movie to stage is not always great," said Gershwin. "And the story is somewhat dated. Definitely, we want to create a new book. The idea would be to update it."

No names have been attached to project as of yet. Co-trustee Leopold Godowsky said several legal questions have to be worked out before talent can be hired.

George Gershwin wrote An American in Paris while visiting friends in the City of Light. He would often stroll the streets listening for just the right taxi horns to incorporate into the piece. The composition was first performed on Dec. 13, 1928, at Carnegie Hall, conducted by Walter Damrosch.

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The Broadway-bound The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm, a new musical conceived by Mark Lamos and Mel Marvin, will begin its journey East at the Arizona Theatre Company, where it will play first at ACT's Tucson stage Dec. 5-27, then at the company's Phoenix location, Jan. 1-24, 1999. Mark Lamos will direct.

Lamos first staged Fascinating Rhythm in 1997 at Hartford Stage, where he was for many years artistic director. The show is a musical tribute to George and Ira Gershwin and features 50 of their songs, including "Lady Be Good," "The Man I Love," "I Got Rhythm," and "Someone to Watch Over Me."

Producer Manny Kladitis told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 26) that the show would have a brief tour before arriving on Broadway in 1999. Kladitis did not return a phone call regarding the show's current Broadway plans.

ATC performs at the Temple of Music and Art in Tucson and the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. For ticket information, call (520) 622-2823 or 1-800-638-4253.

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PBS' Great Performances series, beginning its 26th year Sept. 30, has as its season opener will be a gala George Gershwin centennial concert taped at Carnegie Hall.

Three-time Tony winner Audra McDonald (Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime) joins her Ragtime co-star Brian Stokes Mitchell to sing tunes from Porgy and Bess. The Sept. 30 broadcast also features conductor Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony in "An American In Paris" and the Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra.

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In commemoration of George Gershwin's centennial, National Public Radio is planning a radio special examining the composer's work and life. On Sept. 26, Gershwin's birthday, NPR will air a two-hour documentary on the man (again, check local listings). The show will feature more archival material of George and Ira discussing their work, as well as contemporary recordings of their music. Guests will include the Gershwins' sister Frances Gershwin Godowsky, Gershwin friends Kitty Carlisle Hart, English Strunsky and Rosamund Walling Tirana; as well as Jablonski, Feinstein and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Jeffrey Lunden will produce the special. -- By Robert Simonson and David Lefkowitz

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