Monday, April 28, 2014


The American Classics folks know how to throw a party. Well, it was disguised as a concert, but for the hundred or so of us at Longy on Sunday, it felt like a party. Their DIZZY FINGERS: Piano Pyrotechnics and Delectable Ditties offering featured dazzling piano rags and hilarious novelty songs from the first half of the 20th century (and one naughty song, by Tom Lehrer, from slightly later).

Brad Conner and Ben Sears are celebrated for their wealth of historical knowledge on the subject of the American Songbook so you always learn something new at their performances: An obscure song by a familiar composer or a bit of ephemera you can pass along to your friends. If that isn’t enough, they’re consummate interpreters of those songs as well.

American Classics co-founder, Margaret Ulmer, is equally knowledgeable in the realm of ragtime so it was especially thrilling to hear (and see those incredible fingers fly with) Felix Arndt’s wildly syncopated “Desecration: A Rag Humoresque” which must be the Mt. Everest of piano rags for its twists and turns, not to mention those perilous crevices! Joining Ulmer in the rag department was Steve Sussman who made Zez Confrey’s “Stumbling” rag seem like the perfect soundtrack for a silent movie…Laurel & Hardy perhaps.

AC’s resident romantic tenor, Eric Bronner, exercised his funny bone with Frank Loesser’s “Rumble, Rumble, Rumble” about a man being driven mad by the pianist “upstairs from me…making a nightmare of some melody.” Cynthia Mork lent her vocals (and a nifty update) to the song long associated with Rosemary Clooney, William Saroyan & Ross Bagdasarian’s “Come On-a My House.” (Who knew Saroyan wrote those lyrics? Sears and Conner, of course.)

Sears introduced us to a wonderfully ditsy song called “When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba” by Herman Hupfeld (most famous for CASABLANCA’s “As Time Goes By”). Hupfeld rhymes tuba with Cuba, then shamelessly applies literary license to “knocking ladies for a loop-a” and “funny looking boob-a.” But what makes the song (which Sears and Conner unearthed from the bedrock) is Sears’ duet with Eli Newberger, punctuating those outrageous rhymes on the tuba!

Conner showed off his superb comic timing with the Edwin Weber, Will Mahoney & Jack Hoins gem, “I Love Me (I’m Wild About Myself),” then topped himself in a quirky piece with Zachary Chadwick on piccolo called “Piccolo Pete.” We were even treated to Conner dancing a jazzy gigue to the song. And these are only a few of the astonishing party favors cooked up by the company. See what you missed!

Put November 14 and 16 on your calendars now because American Classics’ next production is Irving Berlin’s first Broadway show, WATCH YOUR STEP. You can’t see it anywhere else!