Ziegfeld Follies of the Air – The New 1934 Live From Broadway Broadcast Revue
The Ziegfeld Society’s first full-fledged fundraiser comes to us a live radio broadcast direct from Heaven’s WHVN. Replete with period microphones and an on stage sound effects man/announcer Arthur Nichols (Ian Whitt) brandishing an APPLAUSE sign, the star-studded revue features many of Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld’s top performers, some undoubtedly there on special leave from lower depths.
The 1934 Ziegfeld Follies Quartet: Jamie Buxton as Judith Barron, Taylor James Hopkins as Jack Pepper, Chelsie Nectow as Vilma Ebsen, Matthew McFarland as Buddy Ebsen
With Paul Whiteman (Mark York) at the piano, 1919’s “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” forever associated with the slow descent of Ziegfeld showgirls down an inevitably elaborate staircase, is offered by The 1934 Ziegfeld Follies Quartet: Vilma Ebsen (Chelsie Nectow), Buddy Ebsen (Matthew McFarland), Judith Barron (Jamie Buxton), and Jack Pepper (Taylor James Hopkins). The able, young singers intermittently deliver commercial jingles like Buster Brown and Atlas Elevator Shoes, as well as providing harmonized backup.
Our well turned out Host, actor Eddie Dowling (Walter Willison), introduces each vocalist with sweeping appreciation. All are attired according to character by Costume Designer Mitchell Bloom.
Walter Willison as Eddie Dowling
Ruth Etting (Candice Oden) and Marilyn Miller (a sparkling Erin Cronican) arrive in tandem with excerpts from too many songs, leaving a choppy impression. Billie Burke, Mrs. Ziegfeld (Carole Demas) sings:.. You can do any little thing that you’ve a mind to, but you must do it with a twinkle in your eye…with flirty class. Later Burke is inexplicably interrupted by Marilyn Miller while performing “Look For the Silver Lining” , at first infuriated and then reconciled during the number. Clearly the writers know something we do not.
David Giardina as Will Rogers; Lee Horwin as Libby Holman
“In 1934, the #1 female box office star was Shirley Temple, the #1 male was Will Rogers. As Rogers, David Giardina sings a couple of laconic western songs with a little patter between. Both look and vocal style reflect the original without imitating. During the Quartet’s evocative rendition of “Limehouse Blues,” we have the unexpected pleasure of dancers Renee and Tony DeMarco (Heather Gehring and Lou Brockman) giving the radio audience time to refill cocktail shakers. Tango-ish choreography designed for the small stage is a marvel of sinuous winding and draping. Ms. Gehring reminds one of Cyd Charisse.
As Helen Morgan, Shelly Burch excels at Morgan’s warble, unstable octaves, and drunken spaciness. (Does the audience know Morgan was an alcoholic?) Lee Horwin’s scandalous Libby Holman has the right, deep, almost singing style. “Moanin’ Low” and “Am I Blue?” emerge with apt cynicism. Enough biographical monologue for its own show, however, tips this event’s balance. “You’re all wondering if I did it. (murdered her young husband). I take Jeanne Eagels’s advice, Keep your trap shut and become a legend.”
Carole Demas as Billie Burke; Erin Cronican as Marilyn Miller
Sheila Wormer plays Mr. Ziegfeld’s secretary Matilda “Goldie” Glough at first passing through the audience reminding us about cell phones and then in a ba-dump-dump conversation with Dowling. Ms. Wormer is good, the material not so much. Fanny Brice (Loni Ackerman), with nasal tonality, sings the unfamiliar “Becky is Back at The Ballet,” a strange choice considering the star’s signature numbers. Her last purposefully awkward turn lands the vocalist in a decidedly humorous, Brice position from which she has to be hoisted up. Dowling/Willison’s excellent, infectiously happy “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” and tender reprise of “A Pretty Girl…” are highlights.
Heather Gehring and Lou Brockman as Renee and Tony DeMarco
Also, indisputably a highlight, is the appearance of Mistinguett (Liliane Montevecchi) whom Ziegfeld pursued for his extravaganzas but never secured. Head to toe in flame red velvet (with boa), Montevecchi launches “Je Cherche Un Millionaire” and “Mon Homme” (“My Man”, a 1916 French song, then popularized in translation by Fanny Brice in 1921) with bravado, showing her fabulous legs, sharing anecdotes. (She once dined with Mistinguett and later played the veteran on stage.) “I was a star of The Folies Bergère for 10 years. I was covered in feathers. This is what’s left,” quips the famously wry artiste.
Mark York, Founder of The Ziegfeld Society and Artistic Director Walter Willison then surprise Montevecchi with its first annual Lifetime Achievement Award. The packed house erupts.
Mark York as Paul Whiteman; Liliane Montevecchi as Mistinguett
Mark York’s Musical Direction/Special Arrangements/Piano are symbiotically with performers every step of the way. Treatment of classic material is authentic and appealing.
This is an ambitious show with failings and successes. Talent is a mixed bag. Research is impressive. The Ziegfeld Society celebrates a link in entertainment history which should be supported, preserved, and enjoyed:
“The Ziegfeld Society of New York City, a not-for-profit organization, aspires to enlighten, entertain and educate current and future generations of theatergoers and young artists about the legendary performers, songwriters and creators of our vast musical theater heritage.”
Photos by Steve Friedman
Opening: Liliane Montevecchi receiving her award from Mark York
The Ziegfeld Society presents
Ziegfeld Follies Of The Air-
The New 1934 Live From Broadway Broadcast Revue
Devised and Directed by Walter Willison,
Musical Direction/Special Arrangements/Piano by Mark York
Broadway at Birdland
315 West 44th St. (With Thanks to Jim Caruso)
January 30, 2017
NEXT ZIEGFELD SOCIETY EVENT: Call On Dolly! A Celebration of the Broadway Hit Musical Hello Dolly starring Richard Skipper February 25, 2017 3:30 Hunter College
FOR RESERVATIONS – Call Lucy 917-371-5509
Most of us grew up with Showplace of the Nation, Radio City Music Hall and The Rockettes. As locals, we’d be taken to the awe-inspiring Art Deco entertainment palace, generally on holidays, where bang for your buck included both a film and live stage show. (Duality ended in 1979.) My grandmother humiliated us by packing sandwiches in waxed paper, so we wouldn’t eat junk. The place seemed unfathomably big and eye-catching.
“New York, New York”- The Legacy Dancers – Photo by Milan Miskos
First memories recall its two, resonant, “Mighty Wurlitzer” organs sliding out as if from nowhere, the entire orchestra rising up and sometimes back as if magically propelled, Christmas carolers filling every balcony, and, inevitably, the show’s centerpiece number, “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” Originally choreographed by The Rockettes founder Russell Markett with costumes designed by Vincent Minnelli, the number remains pretty much as conceived some 84 years ago, a wide variation of formations in military precision, ending with a cannon shot knocking the dancers over like a line of dominoes.
The dance troop, inspired by the John Tiller Girls of The Ziegfeld Follies, was inaugurated in St. Louis as the Missouri Rockets. Renamed the Roxyettes, it was brought to New York City by Samuel Roxy Rothafel to perform first at his Roxy Theatre and then, beginning with the first Christmas Spectacular December 1932, at Radio City Music Hall where the company became what we now know as The Rockettes.
“Another Openin’ Another Show”- The Legacy Dancers -Photo by Milan Miskos
Each and every Rockette must be proficient in ballet, tap, modern, and jazz dance. Height requirements are 5’ 6” to 5’ 10”. (Taller dancers are placed at the center to give the illusion of like height across the line.) Some 400 women audition annually. Often a dancer ‘gets in’ but is not actually hired until someone leaves, which can occur months or years later- such was the case when today’s speakers were company members. Rehearsal and performance schedules are daunting.
Once offered only at Christmas and Easter, the troop was gradually booked for outside events, television, and national tours. Every November, America gets a glimpse of them at The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A current production, New York Spectacular Starring The Radio City RockettesTM , brings employment almost year round.
Make no mistake, this extraordinarily hard-working collection of leggy ladies is a family. Warmth and gratitude inform every personal story. Who else but a Rockette would understand the unique demands and rewards involved in this iconic sisterhood?
“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”- The Legacy Dancers – Photo by Milan Miskos
Hosted, Produced, Directed, and Choreographed by former Rockette, Mary Six Rupert, this afternoon’s event offers firsthand histories by alumna as well as intermittent musical numbers spotlighting The Legacy Dancers inaugurated in 2013. Ranging in age from 22 through 60, the ladies don’t all still have ‘perfect’ bodies, but extensions, synchronization and infectious ebullience abound. There are no weak links. These women can tap! Choreography is terrific fun. Alan Smith’s Costumes flattering delight.
Each ingenuous background tale, clearly written by its speaker, is accompanied by projected photos. These usually start with images of a widely grinning, two or three year-old girl in a tutu and end with photos of performance as a Rockette.
Madeleine Jay, who overcame an after-college injury that might have derailed her chosen vocation, was down with the flu when telephoned for a callback. Determined, she showed up fever and all securing a place in the “big, shiny, glossy unit.” Being a Rockette “was the hardest thing I’d ever done.” Jay remembers once “kicking out” (out of sync), anticipating serious repercussions. Instead the girl at her side was kind. Jay has performed and taught since then.
Mary Six Rupert; Bruce Michael-Photos by Richard Williams
Alina Silver, with 11 seasons under her now rather extended belt (she’s pregnant), was “hooked” from her first ballet recital. When a friend suggested going to Chicago for Rockette auditions on something of a lark, neither made the cut. Years later, however, Silver risked losing at a Celebrity Cruise job by flying to LA when the ship hit a glacier (no kidding) to once again audition for The Rockettes. She got in only to discover her friend Katie had as well. “As hard as it was, I appreciated the precision and perfectionism.”
Mary Six Rupert, the founder of Legacy on the Line, started performing as “the Littlest Raindrop” at age 2 ½. During a 15 year tenure with The Rockettes, Rupert danced with the touring Great Radio City Christmas Spectacular and was promoted to dance captain. She spent years in musical theater and now teaches as well as choreographs.
Rupert and student Tomlee L. Abraham offer a jaunty “My One and Only,” a number she restaged for and taught the great Harold Nicholas for the stage show. Her Wagner College students Brittany Cattaruzza and Tommy Joscelyn execute an utterly charming version of “I Won’t Dance” followed by “Ding” with game, older students from Bridge Dance.
Brittany Cattaruzza and Tommy Jocelyn – Photo by Richard Williams
Ann Cooley “was always a bit of a jazzerina.” Having secured her first paid gig as a dancer at age 16, she moved to New York at 18, auditioned for the Rockettes, and was accepted several months later. Unfortunately, no spot opened up for 3 years. Cooley became a musical theater gypsy, then joined the first touring Christmas Spectacular. She has since acted as director/choreographer of her own projects which include a stint teaching Korean artists musical theater tapping.
Former Vice President and Creative Producer of The Rockettes, (at present Executive Director of The Space at Westbury) Bruce Michael got the bug at age 7 when taken to the Music Hall to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He was “completely captured” by film, show, and venue. “All through school I kept planning production numbers.” Immediately upon leaving college, Michael moved to New York and opened a bank account directly across from Radio City where he was sure he’d work. Singlemindedly hanging out at the stage door, he was eventually, rather cinematically, invited in, later becoming a stage manager. He left to start a production company, but returned in far greater capacity in 1989. Michael’s affection for the work and The Rockettes is palpable.
Katherine Corp and Kimberly Corp -Photos by Richard Williams
Twins Katherine and Kimberly Corp dreamed of being Mouseketeers. Encouraged to academic excellence, terpsichorean training rode tandem with impressive cum laude degrees in International Economic Policy. The ladies danced, toured internationally “with a famous magician,” and held substantial corporate banking positions in Japan. They currently own Pilates on Fifth and are in obviously tiptop shape. Duet performance of “The Typewriter Song” replete with eyeglasses, neckties, and briefcases on which they tap, is effervescent.
Dottie Belle spent 25 years with The Rockettes! A convention performance with a precision dance group lead to an audition for the New York company. She ‘passed,’ but there were no places for a year. Called suddenly, she found herself on a cot at The Rehearsal Club dancing four shows a day at Radio City. Belle weathered “four corporate takeovers” dancing as a Rockette at The Royal Albert Hall and with Peter Allen. She went back to school, became a corporate specialist in Health Education and Promotion and now brings fitness into private homes.
“Favorite Son”-The Legacy Dancers -Photo by Milan Miskos
Legacy numbers include “Another Opn’in, Another Show,” Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and a finale of “New York, New York” with toppers and tails. A highlight is “Our Favorite Son” (The Will Rogers Follies) which features a vocal and is performed sitting on a long bench with Tommy Tune’s intricate, imaginative arm/hand choreography and Ann Cooley’s staging. Straw hats are cleverly affixed with bells which sound when tapped. Focus is consummate.
The smoothly run afternoon was both illuminating and entertaining.
Check The Ziegfeld Society web site for next season’s events.
Visit The Legacy Dancers website for more information.
Legacy 36,LLC is an organization founded to celebrate the art of precision dance and the women that have, and continue to, perform this dance style. The mission of this organization is furthered through fully produced productions, lecture demonstrations, precision dance workshops and camps and so much more.
Opening Photo by Giff Braun
The Ziegfeld Society of New York City and Legacy 36 LLC presents for the Fourth Year
Legacy On The Line-The Road to Becoming a Rocket
A Multi-Autobiographical Musical Revue
Produced, Directed and Choreographed by Mary Six Rupert
Will Rogers Follies and My One and Only
Choreography by Tommy Tune
The Legacy Dancers: Linda Bloom, Brittany Cattaruzza, Ann Cooley, Katherine Corp, Kimberly Corp, Nicole Davey, Ashlee Fife, Madeline Jaye, Cassandra Palacio, Adrienne Weidert
Lang Recital Hall, Hunter College
June 25, 2016