Although Ira Gershwin wasn't be around to celebrate his 100th birthday, Karen Akers, Burton Lane, Angie Dickinson and many others were -- and now, thanks to WNET, so can you. Rob Fisher, musical director of Broadway's Chicago revival, served as music director and artistic advisor for a special Dec. 6 concert honoring the great lyricist, which will be broadcast on various public television stations in mid-March as part of the "Great Performances" series.
Though March 7 was given as "the national air-date" for the program, here are some upcoming local air dates for "Ira Gershwin At 100 - A Celebration At Carnegie Hall." (Viewers are encouraged to check their local PBS listings for these, and elsewhere.)
NY - WNET, ch. 13: Wed. March 12, 8 PM; Sun March 16, 6 PM
Boston, MA - WGBH, ch. 2: Fri. March 14, 10:30 PM; Sun March 23, 10 PM.
Also WGBX ch. 44: Sat., March 22, 10:50 PM.
Washington DC - WETA, ch. 26: Fri, March 14, 9:05 PM.
According to Carnegie Hall spokesperson Joy Chutz, playwright David Ives (All In The Timing, Don Juan In Chicago) provided the script for "Ira Gershwin At 100," which included anecdotes and reminiscences from such guest performers as cabaret chanteuses Karen Akers, Ruth Brown, Rosemary Clooney and Maureen McGovern, actresses Christine Baranski, Karen Ziemba, Chita Rivera and Angie Dickinson, performers Dawn Upshaw, Michael Feinstein, Scott Wise, John Lovitz and Vic Damone, and the late composer Burton Lane. The New York Voices and the Smuin Ballets of San Francisco (Smuin will direct and choreograph the entire evening) also appeared. The Carnegie Hall Theatre Orchestra provided accompaniment.
Clips from feature films and never-before-seen home movies were also part of the mix. Ray Klausen designed the set, Alan Adelman the lighting, David Toser the costumes. 90-year-old Frances Gershwin Godowsky, George and Ira's sister, served as honorary co-chair of the event with family friend Kitty Carlisle Hart. "Ira Gershwin At 100" launched the 22-month "Carnegie Hall Gershwin Centennial Project," which will also include other events, workshops, an exhibit in the Hall's Rose Museum, and a centennial birthday tribute to Ira's sibling, George, in Sept. 1998.
Ira Gershwin, the first songwriter to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize (Of Thee I Sing), was born in New York City Dec. 6, 1896. In 1917, "The Evening Sun" published his first song lyric ("You May Throw All the Rice You Desire But Please Friends, Throw No Shoes"). Four years later he enjoyed his first major stage success, Two Little Girls in Blue, written with another Broadway newcomer, Vincent Youmans. In 1924 Ira and his brother, George, created the smash hit Lady, Be Good! and went on to continue their remarkable collaboration through a dozen major stage scores, producing such standards as "Fascinating Rhythm," "The Man I Love," "'S Wonderful," "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm," and "But Not for Me." During his long career, Ira also enjoyed productive collaborations with such composers as Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Kurt Weill, Burton Lane and Jerome Kern, with whom he crafted "Long Ago and Far Away." Ira Gershwin died Aug. 17, 1983, in Beverly Hills, CA.
Among the songs and singers are Ruth Brown doing "The Man That Got Away," Jon Lovitz joining the Smuin Ballets for "Just Another Rhumba," Vic Damone crooning "Embraceable You," Burton Lane dueting with Michael Feinstein on "It Happens Every Time," and Rosemary Clooney singing "A Foggy Day."
"Great Performances" is executive produced by Jac Venza and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the NEA, and public television.
-- By David Lefkowitz