The American Classics folks have been celebrating the American songbook for over twenty-five years with intimate cabaret concerts and concert revivals of early musicals by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins and Cole Porter, just to name a few. Unless you were around in the ‘30s and ‘40s to see the originals, you wouldn’t know what their first efforts sounded like (and sometimes bombed like), were it not for American Classics’ often hilarious recreations.
Their current concert entitled YIP AND IRA highlights the friendship and collaboration of Yip Harburg (most famous for the songs he composed with Harold Arlen for the movie THE WIZARD OF OZ) and Ira Gershwin (most famous for his partnership with his brother, George). Harburg and Gershwin sat next to each other in high school and shared an affection for the witty lyrics Gilbert penned for his and Sullivan’s British operettas. Harburg credited Gershwin for encouraging him to write song lyrics.
AC producing directors/founders Brad Conner and Ben Sears are renowned for their scholarship on the golden age of popular song in America. Their intriguing back stories about the composers and lyricists are almost as delightful as their concerts. Their program notes make Wikipedia green with envy. No one throws their playbills away. The information is invaluable.
If you missed YIP & IRA, then you missed Ethan Sagin’s highly amusing, personally illustrated version of Harburg and Arlen’s risqué (for 1939) “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” which became a staple over the years for Groucho Marx. AC regular Joei Marshall Perry brought a lovely, wistful sweetness to the Gershwins’ gorgeous “Someone to Watch Over Me” and Conner and Sears broke us up with the Gershwins’ deliciously comparative “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” (Conner got extra laughs with the “Oyster-Erster” lyric.) He does triple duty, singing, accompanying the performers at the piano, showing us the elegant music underneath the lyrics.
Yip and Ira wrote a mock French take off on Noel Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING (with music by Arlen) called “C’est la Vie” with Sagin, Christina English and Joshua Louis Smith as the gleeful ménage a trios. Gay Paris really was when Sagin and Smith leave the charming English high and dry… and us giggling over their antics.
Teresa Winner Blume knows how to deliver a Weill song (Ira and Kurt Weill’s sardonic masterpiece “The Saga of Jenny” from LADY IN THE DARK) and the entire company joined in exquisite harmony for Harburg and Arlen’s incomparable “Over the Rainbow.”
Their next concert will be a cabaret event on Feb. 19 and 21 featuring the lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner.