This month’s Richard Skipper Celebrates at Laurie Beechman Theatre will feature Richard Skipper, Karen Oberlin, Leslie Orofino, Maureen Kelley Stewart, cast members of Harlem Rep’s current production of The Wizard of Oz, and a few more surprises.
To celebrate the 121st birthday of lyricist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, Richard Skipper has assembled a brunch time cabaret tribute to the legendary lyricist, to be staged at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 W. 42nd Street (downstairs at the West Bank Cafe), April 8 with cabaret stars Karen Oberlin, Leslie Orofino, Maureen Kelley Stewart and a special appearance by Anita Gillette. The event is titled Richard Skipper Celebrates … E.Y. ‘Yip’ Harburg (on his Birthday!). It will feature such favorite Yip Harburg lyrics as “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?,” “Look to the Rainbow” and “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” The finale will be cast members of Harlem Repertory Theatre‘s current jazzy production of The Wizard of Oz performing excerpts from that show.
Karen Oberlin, Leslie Orofino and Maureen Kelley Stewart have all done their own “Yip” Harburg shows in the past. Their accompaniment will be provided by musical director Daryl Kojak with Rex Benincasa on percussion and Jeff Carney on bass.
Representing the Harlem Repertory Theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz” will be Taylor-Rey Rivera (Dorothy), Ben Harburg (grandson of “Yip” Harburg, who plays The Tin Man), Emily Ramirez (Wicked Witch of the West) and Derrick Montalvo (Scarcrow). That critically-praised production opened October 8, 2016 and has presently been extended through May 27, 2017. (www.harlemrep.org) Accompanying these singers will be the production’s international jazz trio of Martha Kato (piano), Luca Santaniello (percussion) and Yoshi Waki (bass).
This Wizard of Oz is distinguished by a multi-racial cast, a jazzy underscore and authoritative dramaturgy by Deena (Rosenberg) Harburg, the show’s Creative Producer who is also the newly-appointed President of the Yip Harburg Foundation. Director/choreographer is Keith Lee Grant, Artistic Director of Harlem Rep, who is in the midst of a four-year project of presenting four classic musicals that have lyrics by Harburg. The production has been particularly praised for its innovative jazz stylings. April Stamm (Broadway Blog) wrote, “Rivera belts the show-stopping ‘Over the Rainbow’ with confidence, throwing in a little soulful personality.” Stage Buddy (Tania Fisher) deemed the experience a “stupendous stage production.”
Deena (Rosenberg) Harburg asserts that “Over the Rainbow” actually expresses the dream of an immigrant– or a would-be immigrant—–for a better life in a faraway land, a theme of contemporary resonance. The classic song is under-appreciated for this original intent, but is a poignant message in our time, when callousness toward the immigrant is one of our leading national concerns. In the film and previous theater adaptations, the song is only sung once. But in this Harlem Rep production, it’s reprised several times, once with a syncopated feel that is reminiscent of the now-famous rendition that was broadcast a few years back on TV’s “Glee” and recorded by Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.
This brunchtime show is the latest in the Richard Skipper Celebrates… series, in which top names in musical entertainment meet to share songs, stories and recollections of lifetimes and moments in show business. Each show has a mystery guest. (Previous mystery guests have included Hilary Kole, Melba Moore, Stacy Sullivan, and Jana Robbins, as well as an earlier appearance by one of this month’s participants, Anita Gillette.) This performance is made possible in part by support from Wright Bros. Real Estate, Nyack, New York, and by the Yip Harburg Foundation (www.yipharburg.com), which was created after the famed lyricist’s death to carry on his legacy and to promote educational opportunity, social/economic justice and world peace.
Karen Oberlin is recipient of the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Donald F. Smith Award, the Nightlife Award for Jazz Vocalist of the Year, the Bistro Award for Vocalist of the Year and Multiple MAC Awards — for Best Album and Best Duo Show. She has headlined at Feinstein’s/54 Below, the Cafe Carlyle, Kitano, Birdland and the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, along with major nightclubs and concert halls in New York, throughout the U.S. and Europe (including annual engagements at London’s Crazy Coqs). She has four albums on the Miranda Music label with another on the way. (www.karenoberlin.com)
Leslie Orofino, an actress/singer renowned for her her sultry voice, has headlined venues from the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room to Napa Valley’s Silverado Country Club for over 30 years, specializing in music of the ’30s and ’40s. She has several critically acclaimed cabaret acts and appears regularly around town with her trio, most recently in her new show, Cocktails with Cole. Her musical theatre roles include Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music, Miss Hannigan in Annie, Sharon in Finian’s Rainbow, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Meg Brockie in Brigadoon, and Kay Goodman in Nite Club Confidential. Her CD, Moonlight Cocktails, has been widely praised. (www.leslieorofino.com)
Maureen Kelley Stewart, winner of the 2008 MAC Hanson Award, is a cabaret singer and actress who graduated from ACT in San Francisco and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center Cabaret Symposium. She has presented a number of beautifully crafted salutes to iconic American singers and songwriters and performed innumerable engagements at Manhattan’s cabaret venues, The Town Hall and East Hampton’s Guild Hall. She has appeared in twelve annual performances at the historic Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz. Her debut CD, Seventeen on Mars, is available through OriginalCastRecords.com, CabaretScenes.com and CabaretHotlineOnline.com. (www.maureenkelleystewart.com)
Richard Skipper is a popular, award-winning entertainer, theater historian, writer and arts advocate. A widely recognized authority on Carol Channing and her musicals, he is presently crafting a book on the history of Hello, Dolly! from its opening with Ms. Channing to its upcoming revival with Bette Midler. He was associate producer of the 2010, 2012, and 2013 Bistro Awards and has created a monthly Cabaret series, Richard Skipper Celebrates!, in which top names in musical entertainment meet to talk and perform. He produced the late Peggy Herman’s CD Release Party at Feinstein’s, directed by Peter Glebo and Tommy Tune. His blog, “Richard Skipper Celebrates,” is dedicated to artists and their body of “worth.” He raises money for many worthwhile causes, especially Arts in Education and The Actors Fund, and can be seen in Dori Berenstein’s documentary, Carol Channing: Larger than Life. (www.richardskipper.com)
E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, the master lyricist who was “Broadway’s Social Conscience,” fought for social and economic justice for all people throughout his whole life. His songbook includes such milestone songs of the Great Depression as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” with composer Jay Gorney in 1932. This performance is partially a response to the heightened mood of the recent election year and celebrates the power of the song to affirm progressive values in a time of the dominion of arrogance.
On Broadway, Yip began writing lyrics for multiple revues in the 1930s which included songs that became standards including “April in Paris” (with Vernon Duke, 1932) and “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (with Harold Arlen). He co-wrote the book (with Fred Saidy) and wrote the lyrics for Finian’s Rainbow (1947, music by Burton Lane) which won the Henderson and George Jean Nathan Awards for Best Musical Comedy; for Flahooley (1951, music by Sammy Fain), and for Jamaica, starring Lena Horne (1957, music by Arlen).
In Hollywood, Yip Harburg wrote lyrics for numerous film musicals during the 1930s and 1940s. His most famous work was The Wizard of Oz (1939, with Arlen). In this classic, Yip conceived the integration of song and script, wrote the recitative for the Munchkin “operetta,” and wrote the lyrics to all the songs, including the Academy Award-winning “Over the Rainbow.” He was also the final script editor and made significant contributions to the dialogue. From 1951 to 1961 during the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations and the McCarthy hearings Yip was blacklisted for his political views from film, television and radio. Broadway, however, remained open to him.
He died in Hollywood, enroute to a production meeting, on March 5, 1981 at age 84. (www.yipharburg.com)
WHERE AND WHEN:
Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 1:00 PM (Doors open 12:15 PM)
The Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42nd Street (off 9th Ave., downstairs at the West Bank Cafe)
The evening presented by Russ Wooley is also made possible by support from
Wright Bros. Real Estate, Nyack, New York.
$30 cover plus $20 minimum per person. Bottomless brunch available: add $20 to any brunch entree for unlimited Mimosas, Screwdrivers or Bloody Marys.
PHOTOS ARE AVAILABLE AT: https://goo.gl/photos/uSL3G5HKfdRPmRrF7