Sunday, September 22, 2013

Innnovative musical theater of Kander & Ebb inspires season's first ISO pops program

Jack Everly, veteran pops maestro of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, thought it was time to give his regards to Broadway once again. And he meant the Broadway far removed from the quaint, century-old, sunny-faced heartiness of George M. Cohan, the man who first flashed that salute in song.

"We've done a tribute to the iconic music of Irving Berlin and several 'decade' concerts," Everly told me by phone recently after a 10-hour production meeting about "On Broadway with Kander & Ebb," which will open the Pops Series Oct. 4 and 5 at Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Jack Everly is the mastermind of ISO Kander & Ebb tribute
It was Broadway's turn once again, and what better a thematic emphasis than musical theater's successors to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and Bock and Harnick?

"They have continued the evolution of musical theater," said Everly of John Kander and Fred Ebb, who burst onto the scene with the challenging musical "Cabaret" and went on to make history through such shows as "Zorba," "Woman of the Year," and "Chicago."

"They continued to push the envelope right up through 'The Scottsboro Boys,'" Everly said of the short-lived 2010 musical, which garnered a large number of Tony nominations, but failed to win an award.  "It's a very hard story to tell,  but incredibly theatrical."

For an example of how Kander and Ebb pushed the envelope, Everly mentioned the difficulty of adapting the well-known film "Zorba the Greek" for the musical stage. "The overwhelming importance of 'Zorba' is the story of how you approach life, capturing the spirit of the character Zorba. How do we make the statement clear?" is the hypothetical question Everly said the team had to face. It would have been tempting to back into it, making the point in the course of telling the story. But that didn't suit the directness of the new Broadway musical that Kander and Ebb represented.

"So they had all the cast sit on the stage as the curtain goes up, and start with the song 'Life Is.' Rodgers and Hammerstein would not have done that," Everly said.

What Everly described as the "backbone" of his new program will be two edgy hits: "Cabaret" and "Chicago."  Arrangements for vocalist and orchestra are by Everly, Fred Barton, Jim Stephenson and ISO librarian Michael Runyan.

As so often in the past, Everly has used his wide reach in the pops world to establish the Kander and  Ebb show as the latest production of the Symphonic Pops Consortium. Under that aegis, the Indianapolis-based show will hit the road after its debut here, getting performances this season in Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Ottawa. Everly is also pops maestro in the two last-named cities.

This consortium production "has Indianapolis stamped  all over it," Everly told me.  "If you are about safeguarding the legacy of the American songbook, we are delighted to be making this music as great as it needs to be."

Everly will conduct the ISO and four vocalists, all of whom have extensive Broadway experience: Nick Adams, Ted Keegan, Beth Leavel, and Renee Daniels.