Host KT Sullivan and executive producer Steve Downey are on to something worthwhile. At the Carnegie Weill Recital Hall (November 27, 2007) they unveiled what could turn out to be an appealing annual event. The idea: Have a centennial celebration of songwriters and singers born in the designated year. The initial program premiered in style, with a strong array of performers delivering a succession of winsome numbers and the evening hosted congenially by Ms. Sullivan.
To give you an idea of how it works, Cab Callaway was born in 1907. Hence, smooth Allan Harris was on hand to deliver a rousing “Minnie the Moocher,” Callaway style, with the audience chiming in without even being asked. Gene Autry, the singing cowboy of records and music was born that year, which provided the occasion for Tim Sullivan (KT’s brother) to turn up with the western-slanted musical backup group The Sons of the Pioneers (Gary Cook, Matt Palmer, Joel Racheff) to sing “Red River Valley” and other Autry hits
The most daring expedition of the evening was Olivia Stevens’s performing of songs made known by Swedish signer Zara Leander, who during the Nazi regime in Germany snuggled up to the Nazi bigwigs, with her songs broadcast to Allied troops. As a woman of Jewish origins, Stevens nevertheless has the nerve to explore and imitate the one-time star, born in 1907, and with her sultry voice, she puts on an impressive show.
The World War II war years from the U.S. perspective were reflected by the appealing Valerie Lemon in an ode to Jane Froman, who was severely injured in a plane crash while traveling to entertain troops. She was joined by a quartet dubbed “The Jane Froman Singers.”
Naturally, KT got into the act, recalling memories of Kate Smith (also 1907) and singing her theme song “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,” and also another one that became a Smith hit, “We’ll Meet Again.”
Among the 1907 brigade remembered were also Alec Wilder, Connee Boswell and Paul Francis Webster. Artists joining in the 1907 salute with their appealing performances included Karen Kohler, Nancy McGraw and Craig Rubino, all contributing importantly to the theme. The musicians providing backup included Jon Weber on piano, Guus Wesdorp on piano, Steve Doyle on bass and the clarinet duo of Peter and Will Anderson. The event was directed by Eric Michael Gillett, who also performed powerfully (Edward Heyman’s “When I Fall in Love”) and made much of KT being one of his first friends in show business. Ted Firth was musical director.
The premiere of the idea showed considerable class, and the stage was set for a succession of such centennials, assuming there is audience support. The years are there waiting. The only question is how long will we all live? Reviewed at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.