The national award-winning creative team from Western Carolina University that destroyed the world with “War of the Worlds,” won World War II with “On the Home Front, Nov. 1944,” saved Christmas with “A Christmas Carol,” tried to turn everyone into vampires in “Dracula” and took the audience deep into the jungle in “Tarzan of the Apes” with their “golden age of radio” re-creations have announced their selection for 2014.
“Echoes of the Cotton Club,” a salute to the roots of jazz and the big band era music, will be staged in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on Thursday, April 24. The show starts promptly at 7:30 p.m. and no one will be admitted after it has started.
“Echoes” is the sixth in the series of academicbased entertainment projects mounted in collaboration with four departments and three colleges at WCU under the leadership of director Steve Carlisle, music directors Bruce Frazier and Jon Henson, writer and producer Don Connelly and choreographer Karyn Tomczak.
Each of the shows in the series hearkens back to the golden age of radio, featuring a live orchestra and sound effects, and is performed only once before a live audience in the Bardo Arts Center. The group has won five national broadcasting awards for its unique projects.
The production, which will be recorded for a future radio broadcast, is the fourth show Connelly, professor and head of the WCU communication department, has written for the group. He said the piece has been the most difficult because the story spans nearly 90 years.
“The story line of the show is woven around the critical role that radio broadcasts originating in 1927 from the Cotton Club played in changing the musical landscape in America,” he said. “The echoes from the Cotton Club are all of the rich musical styles and genre that originated in Harlem and continue to this day as a part of our popular culture.”
Bruce Frazier, the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor in Commercial and Electronic Music, said “Echoes” follows the significant musical developments through the decades to the present day – swing, blues, soul and R&B, Motown, funk, disco, hip-hop and modern singer-songwriters.” Featured songs include hits by artists Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald, and the contemporary entertainers they inspire – such as Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake. In addition to the radio cast, the show will feature the Catamount Singers and Electric Soul.
Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College, said every song the group has selected to go with the story was, or is, a number one hit. “Frankly, I don’t know how people are going to be able to sit there for 90 minutes, I want to dance to every one of these songs!” said Carlisle.
“Echoes” will feature a special guest appearance by Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Cotton Club bandleader Duke Ellington and president of the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts. She will be on campus Wednesday, Feb. 26, as a visiting scholar to share her experiences a singer, dancer and choreographer in New York. Ellington will work with WCU performers in rehearsal and give a presentation on her professional life and the work of her father, Mercer Kennedy Ellington, and grandfather. The rehearsals with Ellington and her presentations on campus are open to the public. Her part in “Echoes” will be recorded while she is at WCU because she cannot come to campus for the live radio show in April with celebrations at that time connected to her grandfather’s 115th birthday.
“Echoes” is funded by the Office of the Provost, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine and Performing Arts, the Department of Communication, the School of Music, School of Stage and Screen, and the Carol Grotnes Belk Endowment. Ellington’s participation is supported in part by a grant from the Chancellor’s Visiting Scholar Fund.
Tickets for the show cost $10 and go on sale Monday, Feb. 24. All proceeds from the event benefit student scholarship funds in the participating departments. The group has raised nearly $25,000 in student scholarship funds.