Let’s assume you had an urge to put on a show celebrating the music and lives of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. You’d need at least fourteen musicians, and they’d have to be versatile — a reed wizard able to duplicate the curlicues of JD on BEEBE and OODLES OF NOODLES, to sing soulfully on his more romantic theme song. You’d need a trombonist who could get inside TD’s steel-gray sound, perhaps someone to evoke Bunny Berigan, a drummer who understood Dave Tough and Ray McKinley, vocal groups, singers . . . a huge undertaking.
Those energetic young fellows, Pete and Will Anderson, twins who play a whole assortment of reeds from bass clarinet and flute to alto, tenor, and clarinet, have neatly gotten around all these imagined difficulties to create a very entertaining musical / theatrical evening doing the Fabulous Dorseys full justice. It’s taking place at 59E59 (that’s the theatres at 59 East 59th Street in New York City) and you can see the schedule there.
The Anderson Twins have two kinds of surprising ingenuity that lift their tribute out of the familiar. (You know — the PBS evening where a big band with singers walks its way through twenty hits of X and his Orchestra, punctuated by fund-raising.) They’ve assembled a sextet of New York’s finest musicians — great jazz soloists who can also harmonize beautifully: Pete and Will on reeds; Ehud Asherie on piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Clovis Nicolas, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums. No, there’s no trombonist — but our man Kellso does a wonderful job of becoming TD on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU — a tribute to both of them. And rather than being a parade of the expected greatest hits, this is a musical evening full of surprises: a few rocking charts by Sy Oliver that remind us just how hard the Forties TD band swung; a beautiful piano solo by Ehud in honor of Art Tatum; several of the arrangements that Dizzy Gillespie wrote for JD’s band, and a few improvisations that show just how this sextet, alive and well in 2012, can rock the house: DUSK IN UPPER SANDUSKY, HOLLYWOOD PASTIME, and more.
But the evening is more than a concert — the Andersons have a fine theatrical sense of how to keep an audience involved. In 1947, Tommy and Jimmy starred in a motion picture that purported to tell the story of their lives — THE FABULOUS DORSEYS. On the plus side, the movie has the two brothers playing themselves as adults, and some extremely dramatic performances by the stars of the Abbey Theatre, Sara Allgood and Arthur Shields, as Mother and Father Dorsey. It also has on-screen footage of Art Tatum, Ray Bauduc, Ziggy Elman, Charlie Barnet, Mike Pingitore, Paul Whiteman, Henry Busse . . . a feast for jazz film scholars. As cinema, it verges on the hilarious — although I must say that its essential drama, the rise to fame of the Brothers, is helped immensely by their true-to-life inability to get along. In the film, they are finally reconciled at their father’s deathbed . . . which makes a better story than having them join forces because of the economics of the moribund Big Band Era.
The Anderson boys use clips from the film as a dramatic structure to keep the tale of the Dorseys vivid — and it also becomes a delightful multi-media presentation, with the Andersons themselves pretending to feud (with less success: sorry, boys, but you lack real rancor), pretending to break the band in two and then . . . but I won’t give away all the secrets. My vote for Best Speaking Part in a Musical Production goes to Kevin Dorn, but, again, you’ll have to see for yourself. It’s musically delightful and — on its own terms — cleverly entertaining.
I will have more to say about this production in the future, but right now I wanted to make sure that my New York readers knew what good music and theatrical ingenuity waits for them at 59E59. This show will conclude its run on October 7 — don’t miss it!
May your happiness increase.