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'What's Goin' On: Songs of the '70s'

In recent seasons, Oregon Cabaret Theatre has explored the music and dance of the '40s and '50s ("Five Guys Named Moe") and the '60s ("A Brief History of White Music"). The cabaret opened its current season with a new original show spotlighting the songs of the early 20th century. The show was called "Kickin' the Clouds Away" and it drew from the Great American Songbook to feature tunes penned by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and others.

For its second to last show of the season, Oregon Cabaret Theatre will present another original musical revue spotlighting songs from an era rich in music and history. "What's Goin' On: Songs of the '70s" will focus on the decade of great social change and musical variety.

The show opens Friday, Sept. 11, with low-priced previews on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 9-10. "What's Goin' On: Songs of the '70s" will run at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, with brunch matinees at 1 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 1 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, First and Hargadine streets, Ashland.

Jim Giancarlo, OCT's artistic director, created the show and will choreograph and direct it.

"I've been thinking about this show for a year," Giancarlo said. The show's opening number begins with the late '60s anthem "The Age of Aquarius,' and moves through a recap of the '60s, bringing audiences up to the '70s. The show ends with the Village People song "Ready For the '80s."

There are 35 songs in the show. "Things popped in my head first that I loved," Giancarlo said of the process he went through to pick the songs for the show. "Then I looked online and remembered more."

To chose from all the different songs and styles Giancarlo devised three criteria. The selections had to be songs that he loved, songs with musical variety and songs that would tell a story. "I wanted to try to make a narrative out of it," Giancarlo said. "I wanted to try to tell a story about the '70s."

Giancarlo also wanted there to be lots of dancing in this show. He enlisted the help of fellow choreographers Suzanne Seiber and Southern Oregon University student Tony Kupsick.

Next, Giancarlo came up with iconic images of the era that would be projected on stage to help tell the decade's story.

John Taylor is musical director and is part of the band with Michael Vannice. Taylor is artistic director and co-founder of Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon and former musical director for Cirque du Soleil's "O." Vannice toured and recorded with many rock groups. He has performed at Camelot Theatre, Oregon Cabaret Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Show.

Music in the 1970s covered a wide range of styles, everything from folk-rock to disco to soul and jazz-pop fusion.

"The audience will be getting the best of both worlds," Taylor said. "I'm creating tracks and live music. It will be a big sound."

Taylor said that the songs are really involved. "Orchestrally, there are a lot of strings, brass and horn parts that were on the original recordings." But Taylor isn't setting out to produce a carbon copy of the original recordings.

"I'm trying to do it to the point where it sound full and faithful to what people remember," Taylor said, "but leaving a lot of holes so we can still put our musical personality on it."

"What's Goin' On" welcomes back Dante Maurice Sterling, who appeared in "Five Guys Named Moe" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe." Joining Sterling in the cast are Amber Doss, who recently performed in the national tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar." Emilee Yaakola, Matthew Steven Lawrence and Chelsea Richter will be making their OCT debuts. All three have recently graduated from the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, Calif., where they appeared in shows such as "The Music Man" and "Les Miserables."

"It's such a pleasure to be working with such professionals, John and Michael and the singers," Giancarlo said.

Dinner or brunch is available with advance reservations. Appetizers, desserts and beverages also are available without reservations.

Tickets are $19 for previews; $21 for Sunday evenings; $25 for Sunday brunch matinées; $25 and $27 for Thursday and Monday evenings; $29 and $31 for Friday and Saturday evenings. Ticket prices do not include food or beverages.

Tickets are available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. daily except Tuesday and 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, at the box office at the theater; by visiting oregoncabaret.com; or by calling 488-2902.