Just in time for the presidential election, AMERICAN CLASSICS paid tribute to those pesky SWING STATES (AND THE OTHERS) this past weekend. The great American songbook contains a wealth of material about, or inspired by, the places we come from---or go to, in the case of California. Ben Sears, Brad Conner and company introduced us to some songs we didn’t know (“When It’s Cactus Time in Arizona”) and regaled us with favorites like “Carolina in the Morning,” performed to easy, Southern perfection by Peter Miller accompanying himself on ukulele. (Miller niftily proved the old adage that sometimes simplicity is best: A man, his uke and a fabulous lyric: We hung on every word, hungered for another chorus and felt like we would perish when it was too soon over.)
Now Tennessee, it turns out, has eight state songs. One of the loveliest with the sweetest chorus is “Rocky Top,” sung ‘mountain style’ by Tennessee native Joei Marshall Perry, Miller (banjo and vocals) and Buffie Groves (guitar and vocals). Later in the show, Perry brought home the gorgeous Hoagy Carmichael/Stuart Gorrell “Georgia on My Mind.”.
Perry and Eric Bronner were droll wind-up figures from a diorama about Romney’s adopted states. Host Peter A. Carey ran to the rescue when Utah (Perry) and Massachusetts (Bronner) needed rewinding. President Obama got his due in a spoofy “My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii” (which brought back memories for me of Arthur Godfrey’s old radio show). Later on in the program, Bronner’s soft, lilting lullaby, “Kentucky Babe” took our breath away.
Cynthia Mork delivered the heavenly “Stars Fell on Alabama” and made pleasant harmony with Sears in “An Old Fashioned Home in New Hampshire.” Caroline Musica, who hails from the pine tree state, sang the charming “Spending Your Vacation in Maine” while Conner’s piano phrasing echoed the water lapping at the shoreline. Conner crooned the John Denver hit, “Country Roads” (which mistakenly places the Blue Ridge Mountains in West Virginia ---but all is forgiven since it’s such a beautiful song). Sears finessed a little Jolson on “Swanee” and the entire ensemble (plus Barry Low on accordion) strutted “the Pennsylvania Polka.”
What would an evening about the states be without the rousing anthem from “Oklahoma?” The ensemble made the Rogers & Hammerstein showstopper sound like a stage crowded full of territory folk celebrating their brand new state. It takes two elements to make a good show: a great idea and skillful execution. American Classics has both the innovative ideas and the best people to carry them off.