Oregon Cabaret Theatre brings the 1930s and '40s to life with a musical revue that recalls and celebrates those tumultuous decades.
"The All Night Strut" weaves together the work of legendary songwriters Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser, Charlie Parker, Johnny Mercer and others. The show is a melting pot of music that ranges from ballads to energetic jazz pieces.
"These songs offered great joy, reflection and perspective at a time of upheaval in this country," says director and choreographer Michael Jenkinson in a press release. "We want to take you on a trip down memory lane with this show."
Look for 20 songs performed by a four-piece band led by Mike Wilkins, who was musical director last year for OCT's production of "Chicago."
"The All Night Strut" features returning Cabaret favorites Lucas Blair and Natasha Harris — the two lead actors in 2016's "The Pine Mountain Lodge." They will be joined by newcomers Keenon Hooks and Anastasia Talley.
"We're excited about the collection of talent for the show," says OCT managing director Rick Robinson . "They need to be able to dance, they need to be able to sing, and they need to be charismatic. It's an exceptional group."
Robinson says OCT has staged "The All Night Strut" in the past, and it was popular with audiences, prompting management to bring the revue back.
The show opens with "Chattanooga Choo Choo," indicating the audience is about to embark on a journey through music and time. A Glenn Miller big band and swing version of the song hit No. 1 in the U.S. in 1941.
On a more plaintive note, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" recalls the struggles of the Great Depression. Attempts were made to ban the song, written in 1930, from the radio because of perceptions it criticized capitalism.
The song gives voice to men across America who had served in World War I, built railroads and skyscrapers and farmed the land — but still found themselves standing in bread lines and begging on the streets when the economy collapsed.
The 1930s jazz song "Minnie the Moocher" tells the story of the downfall of a woman who had "a heart as big as a whale." But she gets involved with a man addicted to cocaine who introduces her to opium — although the specifics of the tale are disguised by slang references to drug use. The song uses nonsensical syllables, known as scat, for its chorus.
Cab Calloway and His Orchestra first recorded "Minnie" in 1931. He would have fun with his audiences by getting them to repeat the scat phrases. Eventually his phrases would become so long and convoluted, the audience members would break down into laughter at their inability to copy him.
As World War II began and raged on, composers responded with songs that reflected the times.
"The White Cliffs of Dover" speaks of brave British pilots battling German planes above the cliffs, while also offering hope for a better future with "love and laughter and peace ever after tomorrow when the world is free."
Although most people are aware of iconic Rosie the Riveter posters and art celebrating women's factory work during WWII, the song "Rosie the Riveter" likely appeared first in the early 1940s. The song tells how Rosie protects her overseas soldier boyfriend by working on a plane assembly line, "making history, working for victory."
While looking at the impact of the Great Depression and WWII, "The All Night Strut" reminds audience members that people continued to yearn for love and romance.
The 1930s song "A Fine Romance" was performed by the most popular stars both before, during and after the war — with song and dance team Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, then Louis Armstrong with Ella Fitzgerald singing different versions.
In the song, two would-be lovers spar about the lack of passion in their relationship, saying the other is as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes, or that playing card games with an elderly relative would be a better use of time.
On an upbeat, jazzy note, Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" likely introduced the term "swing" to a broad audience. Ellington credited the sentiment expressed in the song to one of his trumpeters who later died of tuberculosis.
The song, composed in 1931, has become a jazz standard performed by innumerable stars over the decades.
"The All Night Strut" ends on a high note with a medley that includes the Ellington classic, along with the jazzy "Billie's Bounce" by Charlie Parker and "Hit That Jive, Jack," a hit for Nat King Cole.
Set design is by Jason Bolen, costume design by Kerri Lea Robbins, wigs by Virginia Hudson, lighting by Kody Johnson and sound is by Mike Kunkel.