At the beginning of the 20th century, culture in the United States was maturing. European operettas of artists like Gilbert and Sullivan and their American analogues Harrigan and Hart were being mixed with tastes curried by burlesque, minstrelsy and vaudeville, and modern musical theatre evolved.
One of the titans of this emergent art was a whirl of creativity from Indiana named Cole Porter. On Monday, May 25, the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed (MOJO) will take a look at Porter’s overwhelming career through a salute mixing live performance and educational components.
After writing his first operetta at age 10, the precocious youngster was eventually sent back east to attend a Massachusetts private school. He flourished at Yale University — even penning a pair of still-heard football fight songs among the 300 tunes he wrote while there — and his frequent forays into New York City fed his knowledge of musical innovations.
Porter finally committed to his muse after dropping out of Harvard Law School and switching to their music faculty. Two years later, his first Broadway song premiered.
After diversion to service in World War I, Porter shot to fame as a titan of American musical theater. His plays and songs became known for their abundant wit and double entendre, surpassed only by his extravagant, indulgent and scandalous lifestyle.
For the next few decades, Porter was a titan among American songsmiths. His work comprises a major portion of the Great American Songbook, a backbone of jazz standards, and several artists have built their own catalogues by covering his work, most notably Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. In 1990, then-contemporary artists like U2, Annie Lennox, The Pogues, David Byrne and Tom Waits lent their efforts to “Red, Hot + Blue,” a collection of Porter covers assembled as an AIDS benefit.
The May 25 MOJO show will feature the musical efforts of Pensacola’s Guffman Trio plus saxophonist Chuck Schwarz. It will be held at Gulf City Lodge, 601 State St., and begins at 6:30 p.m.
Entrance is $12, $10 for students and military and $8 for MOJO members. A light jambalaya dinner is included and a cash bar will be available.
For more info, call 251-459-2298 or go to mojojazz.org.
Chickasaw hosts magical nanny
For over 60 years, P. L. Travers’ books about the adventures of the nanny Mary Poppins stoked children’s imaginations around the globe. The magical Englishwoman who travels aloft thanks to her umbrella was so popular through the middle of the 20th century that Walt Disney turned it into an Oscar-winning musical film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The 2013 film “Saving Mr. Banks” portrayed the studio’s trials in wooing permission from the author.
The story moved from the screen to the stage as Disney Theatrical staged a live version of the tale. It premiered in London’s West End in 2004, where it ran for three years. Then it was on to Broadway in 2006, where it stayed until 2013. The international version has since added the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to global vocabularies.
Now an amalgamation of both screen and stage versions of this time-honored classic arrives in the Mobile area as the Chickasaw Civic Theatre (CCT) features it in closing out its 51st season. This musical boasting nearly 30 actors is under the direction of Mary Jo Alsip, who brought the shows “Les Miserables” and “The Music Man” to life for CCT.
The show runs May 29 through 31 and June 5 through 7 and 12 through 14. A special event, “Afternoon Tea with Mary Poppins and Bert,” is planned for May 31 at 1 p.m., wherein children will be served tea and treats, make a special gift to take home and then attend a performance of the play.
Friday and Saturday, curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors, students and military. Cash and local checks only.
Tickets for seated guests at the afternoon tea are $25 (children only). Character dress-up is encouraged but not required. Reservations should be made before May 27.
For more information, call 251-458-8887 or go to cctshows.com.
University of Mobile professor lands award
Congratulations go out to University of Mobile Assistant Professor of History Dr. Matthew L. Downs for receiving the 2015 James F. Sulzby Book Award from the Alabama Historical Association.
Founded in 1979 to honor the founding president and longtime secretary of the association, the biannual award recognizes excellence in books deemed to make the most significant contribution to greater knowledge and appreciation of Alabama history. Downs’ honored work, “Transforming the South: Federal Development in the Tennessee Valley, 1915 – 1960,” was published by LSU Press in 2014.
University of Mobile Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Lonnie A. Burnett heads the 1,000-member academic group. A three-member panel chaired by Samford University’s Dr. Brad Creed surveyed the nominated works before tapping Downs as the winner.