George Gershwin music draws large opening for MTH

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Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center

By Bob Evans

Even though George Gershwin died of a brain tumor at the age of 38, the musical legacy he left lives on because his classic musical standards remain part of The Great American Songbook and continue to entertain American audiences through film, concerts, Broadway shows, and other events.

Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center opened its newest production on Saturday night, August 12 to a large crowd who deservedly served up a standing ovation to the four vocalists and the exquisite back up orchestra assembled for this run. “An Evening with George Gershwin” traced Gershwin’s life from his days as a young son of Russian in New York to his status as a top composer for Broadway, Hollywood, and concert stages.

Paired life-long with his brother, Ira, the pair collaborated to create some of the most famous of the 1930s and 40s with George writing the music for Ira’s lyrics. While known mostly for their love songs, the pair wrote up-tempo tunes like “I Got Rhythm,” and “Strike Up the Band.” But most famous was George’s solo semi-classical “Rhapsody in Blue,” one of several classical pieces he wrote.

“An Evening with George Gershwin” starred a quartet of Kansas City’s best vocalists–Lauren Braton, Jacob Aaron Cullum, Molly Hammer, and Justin McCoy. They were backed by The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City with Brad Cox as conductor/piano, Jeff Harshbarger on bass, Brenna Hayes on baritone sax, nick Howell on trumpet, James Isaac on clarinet, Adam Schlozman on guitar, Brian Scarborough on trombone, Forest Stewart on Horn in F, Rich Wheeler on tenor sax, and Sam Wiseman on percussion.

With powerhouse vocals like those listed, no backup orchestra needed; with an orchestra like that, no vocals needed. Together, WOW! Cox’s orchestrations with a bluezy-jazzy sound gave all the songs a new sound while protecting the melody and lyrics of the American giants.

Musical selections included “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” “But Not for Me,” “Liza,” “The Man I Love,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” and several selections from Gershwin’s Folk Opera, “Porgy and Bess.”

Of the music, the most fun song was from Cullum as he teased the baritone saxist with “ Lady Be Good.” The most lilting, “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess gave Braton the chance to display her crisp, clear soprano. Molly Hammer used her sultry low-register for “Embraceable You.” For “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” McCoy belted with his rich baritone voice. As for Cox, his creative renditions for Fascinatin’Rhythm” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

All things considered, “An Evening with George Gershwin” delivers top quality entertainment in the format only Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center provides. The format is a cabaret style show with full accompaniment and a variety of performances.

The show is family friendly, fresh, locally written and stands apart from other such productions in the metro area.

The production team for the show written and directed by MTH founder George Harter is: Chad Gerlt, executive director; Sarah Crawford, producing artistic director/book musicals; Brad Cox, musical arrangements; Ashley Pike, stage manager; Nicholas Horne, assistant stage manager; Kylor Greene, lighting designer; John Hileman, sound designer; Matt Coggins, sound technician; Jim Misenheimer, scenery.

For more information and tickets. check the Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center’s website: musicaltheaterheritage.com/shows/

Tags: Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center, “An Evening with George Gershwin”, Kansas City music, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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