Director Stafford Arima, choreographer Christopher Gattelli, music director and arranger David Loud, in collaboration with Edwin Wilson, are creating and presenting The Land Where the Good Songs Go, an original theatrical Kern song cycle using students in the musical theatre program at CUA .
The project is the first of a series designed to engage seasoned professional theatre artists to work with students at Catholic University's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. Following three weeks of rehearsal, four performances will play the University's Ward Recital Hall, Nov. 18-21.
"The production takes 35 Jerome Kern songs and fashions them into a story told entirely without dialogue or narration," according to production notes. The cast features six CUA students Kurt Boehm, Paul Chamberlain, Lisa Ferris, Laura Kelley, Peter Merideth and Lauren Williams "as three couples whose lives are traced from courtship through marriage to maturity."
The show contains many well known Kern numbers ("All the Things You Are," "Long Ago and Far Away," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes") but also a number of "discoveries" (lesser-known gems or forgotten songs) such as "The Subway Express" (lyrics by James O'Dea), "Now That We Are One" (lyrics by Ira Gershwin), "April Fooled Me" (lyrics by Dorothy Fields) and "Nobody Else But Me" (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II).
The production team for the workshop includes James Kronzer (set), Eleanor Dicks (costumes), John P. Woodey (lighting), Patrick Flynn (assistant director), Andrew Griffin (stage manager) and Jonathan Mills and John Patrick Sabatos (assistant stage managers). David Loud's music directing credits include Ragtime and Steel Pier on Broadway and And the World Goes 'Round Off-Broadway. Stafford Arima's directing credits include Altar Boyz, Children's Letters to God and the London production of Ragtime (Olivier Award nomination). Christopher Gattelli's choreographic credits include tick,tick...BOOM!, Bat Boy: The Musical! (Lucille Lortel Award) and Altar Boyz.
"Jerome Kern's music is among the very best of the classics of the American music theatre," said CUA music school dean Murry Sidlin. "I am delighted that our students are working under the inspiring direction of David Loud and Stafford Arima, two brilliant and respected professionals. The cabaret-style event will highlight how a revue is conceived, organized and produced, and then call upon our students to recreate Loud’s magnificent arrangements.”
The show is the brainchild of New York playwright and theatre professor Ed Wilson. According to production notes, about two years ago Wilson decided to put together a revue of the composer's classics, like "All the Things You Are," as well as a number of little-known Kern tunes. The author or co-author of three widely-used college theatre textbooks in the United States, Wilson said he wanted to showcase Kern’s work because he considers him one of the "five great masters of the American song" along with Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. Kern, according to Wilson, is the least acknowledged.
Kern (1885-1945) studied music in New York and Germany and then worked as a pianist for a music publisher in the early 1900s. He quickly became a successful songwriter and worked on many shows before 1927, when he teamed with writer Oscar Hammerstein II to create Show Boat, considered the first American musical play (noted for its serious subject matter and ambitious historical and personal scope — following characters for more than 30 years).
Adapted from Edna Ferber's novel of the same name, Show Boat "pioneered the concept of the fully integrated musical, separate from the European operetta tradition and the Ziegfeld Follies revue that preceded it," according to CUA notes.
Kern is considered a link between the European and Broadway musical styles.