Most theatres build their season toward a mega=climax, season-ending production, but The Chestnut Fine Arts bucks that trend, opening with a musical extravaganza of singer/songwriter/lyricist Johnny Mercer’s memorable music.
Director Brad Zimmerman selected Mercer’s music to open The Chestnut Fine Arts’ 21st season, with a caravan of mostly well-known songs that remain firmly cemented into the American songbook. Within the dialogue of the show, some of Mercer’s accomplishments were noted: He wrote over 1600 songs; he received 19 Academy Award nominations; he won four Academy Awards; he wrote for popular artists (mostly in 30’s 40’s and 50s; he founded Capitol Records; he scored two Broadway hits (“Li’l Abner” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”); he wrote for movies; and more.
Mercer’s music possessed a unique blend of Popular, Jazz, and Blues. While many do not always link him to the music he wrote, everyone knows Mercer’s music. His Academy Awards came with a variety of pace and rhythm. First winner, “On the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe” from the movie Harvey Girls and performed by the incomparable Judy Garland. (Side note: living legend Angela Lansbury co-stared.) Next, he was Oscared for “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” performed by many recording artists–but probably best remembered as performed by Jo Stafford.
After a long streak of no Academy Awards, Mercer climbed Mt. Everest again and collected his last two Oscars for “The Days of Wine and Roses” and his most famous song, “Moon River” from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As the performers delivered the background of that particular piece, the audience is shocked that the movie producer said that the “moon”song needed to go, but Audrey Hepburn lobbied and won the argument to keep the song in the show (of course, it was her song to sing in the movie). And, as popular as the song is, the movie is mostly forgotten, but Andy Williams’ vocal version remains the iconic recording
“Accentuate the Positive” cannot fail with the musical ditties of Johnny Mercer, but when you add the performers, be prepared for a knockout show. Jon Daugharthy, Lindsay James, Sarah Mae Lamar, and Patrick Lewallen have both the voices, facial expression, and emotional connection with each song to give old standards a new twist.
Lamar performed a beautiful version of “Blues in the Night” that so many notable performers have recorded. (Dinah Shore had a mega-hit with this song.) Lindsay James sang a beautiful rendition of “Autumn Leaves.” While the most famous version of that song was Roger Williams’ piano version, James’ light soprano voice lifted the song with a beautiful vocal arrangement.
Known for his smooth, crooning style, Jon Daugharthy never disappoints. He’s got one of the best baritone voices in the metro with the range to hit the high tenor notes. For this show, his soft, crooning provided the prefect style for “The Summer Wind,” “Goody Goody,” “Emily.” Daugharthy teamed with Patrick Lewallen for a comedy western number, “I’m An Old Cowhand.” And, the duo was funny as they performed Mercer’s “Strip Polka.” The songs gave a nice laugh in the parade of music.
Providing his electrical personality to the show, Patrick Lewallen can and does perform a vast variety of music. “Accentuate the Positive” gives him the opportunity to perform a host of American classics. His gestures, his expressions, his movement keep eyes on him when he’s in the spotlight. One of his numbers that stands out is his version of the Tony Bennett chart=topper, “I Wanna Be Around.” In Lewallen’s hands the song is heard anew. His take and delivery is fresh and lively.
The four performers deliver the goods throughout this show. All perform in their comfort zone and the cabaret style of The Chestnut accentuates their skills. The newest member of The Chestnut cast performs as comfortably as the most seasoned veteran to The Chestnut. The blend of voices and connectivity with the audience amazes.
Producing Artistic Director, Brad Zimmerman tickles the ivories for the quartet of performers. While patrons listen to the performances, and voices, make special note of the arrangements and accompaniment of Brad Zimmerman. Zimmerman plays keyboards for 95 percent of his Chestnut shows, but for this one, Zimmerman along provides the music. His artistry on the piano is always a strong attribute for shows, but “Accentuate the Positive” just stands out more. His piano, the approach to each song amplifies the music. When combined with the vocals, the orchestration and delivery of the score excels.
Some of the songs included in the show are: “Satin Doll,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Java Jive,” “Lazy Bones,” “Glow Worm,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Button Up Your Overcoat,” “ Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da,” “I Remember You,” “Tangerine,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Jeepers Creepers,” Candy,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” “And the Angels Sing,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “Dream,” and even more. What a great lineup of music for fans to enjoy.
The varied music of Johnny Mercer pleases the audience at The Chestnut Fine Arts Center in Olathe, Kansas. The show features a selection from his vast songbook and plays through Oct. 20. For more information, performance dates, times, prices, go to the Chestnut Fine Arts website or call the box office at 913.764.2121.
Tags: “Accentuate the Positive” review, Chestnut Fine Arts, Olathe, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment