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Al Jolson

REMEMBERING TONY BENNETT

July 25, 2023

He sang all his life. When New York's Triborough Bridge (known today as the RFK Bridge) opened in May of 1936, Tony Bennett--then a boy singer from Astoria who loved the work of Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor--sang at the opening. Mayor Laguardia, he recalled, patted him on his head! [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa: At the Museum of Broadway

December 13, 2022

Everyone who loves theater owes a debt of gratitude to Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti.  About five years ago, they got the idea of creating a museum in the theater district, dedicated to Broadway.  They would raise the funds themselves, hoping to create a self-sustaining operation.  The museum they have co-founded has now opened.  And it’s a winner! Oh, I’m not saying it’s perfect. Nothing in this world is quite perfect.  And like all new ventures, the museum is experiencing some growing pains.  (Later in this piece, I’ll suggest some ways that the museum could be made even better.) But what they’ve achieved thus far is mighty impressive.  There are a few kinks to be ironed out, but this is a major addition to the theater district. [more]

A Walk in the Woods with Playwright Chip Deffaa, His Deer, and the Ghost of George M. Cohan

December 5, 2022

Deffaa comments: “I've always loved Cohan's attitude--that 'can-do' spirit of his is inspiring.  He had no formal education; he learned by doing; and left a terrific legacy.  Just a remarkable man!  No one in Broadway history ever did as many different things as well as Cohan.  He wrote book, music, and lyrics for Broadway shows that he starred in, directed, choreographed, and co-produced.  He wrote or co-wrote some 50 Broadway shows, produced or co-produced some 80 Broadway shows.  At his peak, he owned or controlled seven Broadway theaters. “Cohan’s shows--fast, funny, and unusually well-plotted for their day--laid the foundation for modern musical comedy.  It was Cohan who made America--not Europe--the pace-setter for musical theater.  In an era when musicals were often little more than collected vaudeville acts, Cohan was creating well-plotted musical plays.  And critics took note that he was advancing the artform.  George Jean Nathan, a top critic, wrote that Cohan’s musicals were “as carefully plotted as the dramas of Euripides.”  By writing book, music, and lyrics, and supervising all aspects of production, Cohan was creating musicals far more cohesive than those before.  And the best younger people working in the theater, like Oscar Hammerstein and Irving Berlin, took note and built upon Cohan’s foundation.  Cohan was a major contributor to our culture.  He was the first member of his profession honored with a Congressional medal, presented to him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.” [more]

Irving Berlin and Me (And a Brush with Death Along the Way)

April 5, 2022

In the past 20 years, I’ve produced a total of 34 different albums; 16 of them have dealt with Irving Berlin (1888-1989). The newest album in this ongoing Berlin series, "Chip Deffaa’s Irving Berlin: Love Songs and Such"--featuring such gifted artists as Betty Buckley, Karen Mason, Steve Ross, Anita Gillette, Jon Peterson, Natalie Douglas, Jeff Harnar, Sarah Rice, Bobby Belfry, Keith Anderson, Molly Ryan, and Seth Sikes--was the hardest of all the albums to produce. And, for reasons I’ll address in a bit, it took by far the longest time to produce; life is not always easy. But for me, this is the most satisfying album of the bunch. (And as I type these words, I’m happy to note it’s just been nominated for a MAC Award, which is extra gratifying!) I know I’ve made a worthwhile contribution to Berlin’s recorded legacy. [more]

On the Town with Chip Deffaa: As Nightclubs Begin Coming Back

July 20, 2021

Gianni Valenti, who runs one of the city’s best-known and most important nightspots, Birdland Jazz Club on 44th Street, deserves a lot of credit for leading the way.  He was one of the first club owners to announce plans to reopen.  He’s reopened strong, booking lots of respected artists, like Delfeayo Marsalis, Allan Harris, Ken Peplowski, etc. (For Birdland's full schedule, go to www.birdlandjazz.com.)  And he’s keeping prices as low as possible to make sure the place is packed.   For many shows at Birdland this summer, you can buy tickets online and pay only a nominal cover charge—some nights just 99 cents (plus a service charge).  That’s the same cover charge the club had when it first opened way back in 1949. [more]

On The Town … With Chip Deffaa, Nov 2, 2019

November 3, 2019

Chasing Rainbows has an exceptionally appealing cast. This is one of those rare productions where even the smallest roles are vivid. The show itself is not perfect.  There are fixes that need to be made, which I'll address shortly.   But there's a million dollars’ worth of talent on that stage, and some moments that are so wonderfully rewarding, [more]

92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Get Happy: Harold Arlen’s Early Years”

February 4, 2017

The show began with Arlen’s first hit, “Get Happy,” 1930, and ended with his 1939 score for the MGM film, "The Wizard of Oz." The first half of the evening was devoted to Arlen’s stand-alone popular tunes, his songs written for the Cotton Club Revues (1932-1934), and musical numbers for early sound movies. Blackhurst recounted how Arlen (born Hyman Arluck of Buffalo, New York), was a child prodigy singing in his father’s choir when he was seven, forming his own bands in his late teens, and occasionally appearing as a vocalist with them on records in his twenties. [more]

92 Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “All Dancing! All Singing! Irving Berlin in Hollywood”

May 5, 2015

Sandy Duncan and Don Correia, wearing shabby tuxedos, top hats, and Converse high top sneakers, beautifully dancing and singing, “A Couple of Swells,” was one of the many highlights of the 92 Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series’ "All Dancing! All Singing! Irving Berlin in Hollywood." Ms. Duncan and her husband Mr. Correia vibrantly demonstrated why they have had such enduring careers in show business, which have included a number of appearances on Broadway. Guest starring here, they effortlessly recreated that famous number from MGM’s 1948"Easter Parade," originally performed by Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, who replaced the injured Gene Kelly. The tune itself dated from 1917, when it had the unpopular title and lyrics, “Smile, and Show Your Dimple.” [more]