Turtle Creek Chorale plums the musical genius of B’way songwriters Kander and Ebb
MARK LOWRY | Special Contributor
You might assume that musical theater composers would prioritize the “singability” of their songs, but to Trey Jacobs, artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, that’s not always the case. Still, the tunes by the long-running composing duo of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb do lend themselves to singability, and that’s one of the reasons Jacobs chose their work for the Turtle Creek Chorale’s upcoming concert series at City Performance Hall.
“One of the things that I really appreciate is that [Kander’s] tunes are very singable,” says Jacobs. “From a musical standpoint especially, it’s the diversity that you see in his music.
He’s so good at that quick ‘patter song,’ but then he can soar with these gorgeous lines that just rip your heart out.”
Those songs include several from the partners’ best-known musicals (Chicago and Cabaret), but also from lesser-known shows from the first half of their 40-year career (The Rink, Zorba and Flora, the Red Menace), as well as some from more recent titles like Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Visit and The Scottsboro Boys, which was the final book musical billed as being by both men (there have been several revues of their music, including a forthcoming new one). Ebb died in 2004; Kander is still working, with his newest musical, The Landing, set to debut off-Broadway next season.
Jacobs has long been a fan of Kander and Ebb, and was constantly introduced to their songs that weren’t from Cabaret or Chicago when his voice students in his former home in Michigan would often perform them, prepping for auditions for productions and college admission. He’d been thinking about doing such a showcase from their catalogue for a while.
Giving Kander and Ebb their due falls not only on the 220-member chorale but also stars from the local musical theater community: Actresses Cheryl Allison, Linda Leonard and Amy Stevenson will take part in the showcase, which will use costumes, set and lighting changes and “lots of moving around.” On only a few of the 25 songs will the entire chorus be onstage at once.
For many of the numbers, Jacobs looked for different arrangements that would work in a choral setting, or at least a different one from how they’re usually performed.
“[We] put together this duet with these two men singing together, the song ‘Only Love’ from Zorba and ‘We Can Make It’ from The Rink,” Jacobs says. “[We] pair those two together and it is just a wow-wow moment. The soloists are perfect. I also found in my search a really fantastic arrangement of ‘Life Is’ from Zorba.”
“I think the wonderful thing about Kander and Ebb is that they write about relationships, and they write stories really beautifully and the stories can apply to anyone,” Leonard says.
“You can change up the gender on any relationship and it still works. To me, that’s what’s attractive about Kander and Ebb and the forward movement of their music.”
Leonard is no stranger to K&E herself. A director, actress and choreographer, she will be play the Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret soon, as well as revive her performance as the title character in Uptown Players’ revival of Kiss of the Spider Woman, which she first played for the company in 2003. She says Kander and Ebb’s music, which she finds the most comfortable fit for her voice, is perfect for this kind of arrangement with the chorale. She has also performed several K&E songs in Uptown’s annual Broadway Our Way benefit, in which actors sing songs originally written for the other gender; her rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” from Chicago was particularly memorable.
That song will be included in TCC’s tribute, as will “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” “Arthur in the Afternoon,” “My Coloring Book” and what Jacobs calls “an exquisite arrangement” of “A Quiet Thing” (from Flora), as well as a mash-up of the Chicago and Cabaret tunes “When You’re Good to Mama” and “Don’t Tell Mama,” to name a few.
“I chose every single song that went into this show, and I knew exactly what I wanted,” Jacobs says. “I spent a lot of time going through their catalogue, looking not only from a musical standpoint, but also at the text with what I thought would resonate, not only with the audience but with the guys in the chorale.”
Jacobs hints that this concept of a show dedicated to a musical theater composer, such as Jerry Herman or Stephen Sondheim, could follow in future seasons if this one works out.
To that idea, we say Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 12, 2013.