By Linda Sickler/SMN
Bless us, we residents of the Coastal Empire do love our homegrown hero, Johnny Mercer.
On April 21, a celebration of all things Mercer will be held at Tybee Post Theater. “Johnny Mercer on Tybee” will be hosted by Jim Wann, a Broadway actor, writer and producer who spends six months a year on Tybee.
“A lot of elements are going into this,” Wann says. “Tybee folks and Savannah folks feel such a kinship with Johnny Mercer. He said the kinds of things in songs we all think.
“People feel his spirit in the air,” Wann says. “It’s the spirit that draws us to this place. When we’re celebrating Johnny Mercer, we’re really celebrating Savannah and Tybee and the air that surrounds us.”
A lyricist, composer, songwriter and singer, Mercer was also a record label executive who co-founded Capitol Records. He recorded his own songs and those written by others.
Many of the songs Mercer wrote and performed were among the most popular hits of the time. He wrote the lyrics to more than 1,500 songs, including music for films and Broadway shows.
During his career, Mercer received 19 Academy Award nominations, winning four Best Original Song Oscars, including awards for “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” He died in 1976 at the age of 66 of a brain tumor.
The unique production will include music, storytelling and archival footage of Mercer on talk shows in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“One of the things we want to emphasize is that Johnny Mercer was the creator of outdoor songs,” Wann says. “In the music biz, that’s an actual term.
“His songs are full of birds and critters and rivers and creeks, the rhythms of the South that all Southerners are familiar with that others become familiar with through his songs,” Wann says. “There’s a symbiosis between Johnny Mercer songs and things that enjoy living in this place.”
Mercer often drew upon his Georgia heritage for inspiration and ideas. Born in Savannah, he also had well-established ties to Tybee Island, where legend says as a youth, Mercer could be found sneaking bootlegged liquor with his older brothers and cousins at Tybrisa, and attending dances on the beach.
In addition to Wann, the show will feature singers Claire Frazier and Patti Kelly. Pianist Steven Bryan will lead the onstage ensemble, which will include Ryan Kelly on bass, Matt Fallin on drums, Larry Golden on sax, Bobby Hanson on harmonica and Wann on guitar.
“I’m a ‘pardon my Southern accent’ kind of singer of Johnny Mercer songs,” Wann says. “Claire Frazier is a jazz singer who has been all around the world, opening for Ella Fitzgerald and other accomplishments like that.
“We also have Patti Kelly, who is married to Ryan Kelly, a grandson of Emma Kelly. Ryan is going to play and Patti is going to sing.
“Stephen Bryan of Tybee, a keyboard ace who helped me put together last November’s benefit concert, is going to oversee the band, which also includes other local favorites,” Wann says. “There’s going to be a lot of variety in the music.”
A book signing also will be part of the evening with Wann reading from Julius “Boo” Hornstein’s “Sites and Sounds of Savannah Jazz” and Polly Wylly Cooper’s “Tybee Days.” The authors will sign books in the lobby.
One of Wann’s goals is to bring singers and musicians together.
“I’d like to have a community of singers and musicians here that get together as often as they would like,” he says. “One of my goals is to get some of these folks together to try to be involved in an ongoing thing at the Tybee Post Theater.”
The Mercer show is a result of a collaboration between Wann and the Post Theater.
“Being here on Tybee six months of the year, I want to contribute whatever I can that will work for their supporters and the public. Next Christmas, we’ll probably do a holiday-themed show.
“This is springtime, and it seems like a good time to celebrate Johnny Mercer music,” Wann says. “It’s so full of life and feels good.”
But even the sad songs feel good when they’re Mercer’s.
“Even the sadder songs, if they’re done really well, really touch your heart and make you feel things,” Wann says. “He was such a gifted writer and a great man. I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him.”
Mercer’s many sides are reflected in his lyrics, Wann says.
“There are not many people who can write at his level,” he says. “The other sides to him are fascinating.
“There was Johnny Mercer, the businessman who founded Capitol Records. There was Johnny Mercer, the Southern gentleman everyone remembers being so kind and friendly.
“There’s the somewhat darker side that came out when he had too much to drink,” Wann says. “In these videos, I see someone a bit edgy.”
In New York, Wann is known for composing and performing Broadway and off-Broadway hits, including “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” “Diamond Studs: The Life of Jesse James, A Saloon Musical,” “The People Vs. Mona” and “King Mackerel & The Blues are Running.”
“Pump Boys” was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1982. It has been presented across the country and around the world.
In addition to his work in New York, Wann supports and participates in a number of Savannah musical organizations. He has served as a judge and board member for the American Traditions Competition, and in 2015, the Savannah Philharmonic performed one of Wann’s songs, “Christmas in Savannah” at the annual Holiday Pops concert.
“I was very excited to be asked to develop a Mercer show by the Tybee Post Theater and I think the audience will really appreciate the mix of Johnny Mercer tales, music, pictures and other memories we’ve put together to pay homage to one of the best songwriters of the 20th century,” Wann said.
“It’s highly entertaining, thoughtful, lighthearted and personal. I’m eager to treat Mercer fans to this glimpse back to the time he spent on Tybee, and I hope those who love Mercer will tell all their huckleberry friends.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Johnny Mercer on Tybee”
When: 7:30 p.m. April 21
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
Cost: $20-$25 for adults; $10 for children/students
By Jim Reed/SMN
Those who appreciate a broad swath of cinematic diversions may find themselves trying hard to keep up with all the interesting alternative film screenings in our area over the next seven days. There are, quite simply, too many specialty screenings going on this week to delve very deeply into any of them — but here’s a bird’s eye view of what’s being offered.
Can’t go wrong with ‘The Godfather’
First up is the Tybee Post Theater’s three-night salute to director Francis Ford Coppola’s original 1970s “Godfather Saga.” As we mentioned in last week’s Film Scene column, the Post had previously arranged to screen 1972’s “The Godfather” for one night only, but they have amended that initial plan to now include the second film in that epic saga of Italian-American organized crime, 1974’s “The Godfather: Part II.”
Adapted from and inspired by Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel detailing the trials and tribulations of an ambitious immigrant family with a knack for illegal commerce and a violent approach to business management, these two intensely dramatic motion pictures combined earned a total of no less than nine Oscars. Starring such luminaries as Marlon Brando, Talia Shire, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasberg, Robert DeNiro, Robert Duvall and “The” Abe Vigoda, they are considered to be two of the very finest American films of their era.
At 7 p.m. April 6, the Post screens the initial feature, with the sequel shown the following night at the same time. Finally, on April 8, both films will be shown back-to-back in a massive six-plus-hour double feature, starting at 6 p.m. Admission is $7 to either of the single screenings, or just $10 for Saturday’s marathon. How can you go wrong?
Johnny Mercer is expected to ‘return’ to Tybee Island for one evening only this month as the beloved musician’s spirit, stories and recollections come to life once more thanks to Tybee resident Jim Wann. The Broadway actor/writer/producer will host “Johnny Mercer on Tybee,” an evening of music, storytelling and images of Mercer, emphasizing his connections to Tybee Island and his fondness for “outdoor” songs.
The popular and successful songwriter, who was known to draw upon his Georgia heritage for inspiration and ideas, was born in Savannah but had well-established ties to Tybee. Legend has it that as a youth, Mercer could be found sneaking bootlegged liquor with his older brothers and cousins at Tybrisa, and attending dances on the beach.
The original show is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, 2017 at the Tybee Post Theater, which just received a new roof after Hurricane Matthew badly damaged the historic structure only a year after its extensive renovations and grand reopening.
Featured singers in this special program include Savannah’s own Claire Frazier and Patti Kelly, with various approaches to Mercer classics. Tybee’s American Songbook keyboard ace Steven Bryan will lead the onstage ensemble, which includes Ryan Kelly on bass, Matt Fallin on drums, Larry Golden on sax, Bobby Hanson on harmonica, and Wann on guitar. In addition to the music and storytelling from sources who knew Mercer years ago, archival footage of Mercer on talk shows, variety shows and interviews will be shown.
Wann, who lives on Tybee for part of each year, is a renowned composer, lyricist and performer who supports and participates in a number of Savannah musical organizations, including the American Traditions Competition and the Savannah Philharmonic. He has served as a judge and board member for the ATC, and in 2015, the Philharmonic performed one of Wann’s songs, “Christmas in Savannah” at the annual Holiday Pops concert. In New York, Wann’s professional feats include composing and performing Broadway and off-Broadway hits, such as “Pump Boys and Dinettes”; “Diamond Studs: The Life of Jesse James, A Saloon Musical”; “The People Vs. Mona”; and “King Mackerel & The Blues are Running.” “Pump Boys” was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical, 1982, and has since played across the country and around the world.
A self-described Mercer fan for many years, Wann said he’s honored to present Georgia’s favorite son onstage, before many longtime Coastal Empire residents who personally knew and loved the famed songwriter. He’ll read excerpts from books by Mercer friends and historians Julius “Boo” Hornstein (“Sites and Sounds of Savannah Jazz”) and Polly Wylly Cooper (“Tybee Days”). Archival video of Mercer’s TV appearances will be shown, courtesy of Friends Of Johnny Mercer.
“I was very excited to be asked to develop a Mercer show by the Tybee Post Theatre and I think the audience will really appreciate the mix of Johnny Mercer tales, music, pictures and other memories we’ve put together to pay homage to one of the best songwriters of the 20th century,” Wann said. “It’s highly entertaining, thoughtful, lighthearted and personal. I’m eager to treat Mercer fans to this glimpse back to the time he spent on Tybee, and I hope those who love Mercer will tell all their huckleberry friends!”
Reserved seating tickets to “Johnny Mercer on Tybee” cost $20 for adults. Premium seats cost $25 for adults, and children’s tickets are $10 each. In addition, special $10 student tickets will be available to attract young audience members. For more information on the show or to purchase tickets, please visit https://tybeeposttheater.showare.com/.
By Molly Hayden/SMN
Singer/songwriter William Florian is the perfect combination of musician and storyteller, blending a reminiscent sound with humor and tales of his own musical explorations.
His origin story began at the ripe age of 22, when he barged in on the famed band The New Christy Minstrels and asked to join. He would, eventually, but his road to fame is as much a lyrical journey as the folk songs he plays.
And this type of wandering is exactly how Florian will entertain during “Those Were the Days,” an evening of music and stories March 31 at the Tybee Post Theater.
During the upbeat show, Florian will share America’s greatest songs of the ’60s, peppered with his own musings. It’ll prove to be a memorable night with the music of Peter Paul & Mary, John Denver, Pete Seeger, The Mamas & The Papas, and uplifting originals presented with amusing stories in an intimate performance.
“There is a lot of power behind the meanings of these songs,” said Florian. “They continue to be relevant today, but they also bring you back to a specific time in your life. They bring up feelings and memories that make you smile.”
The New Christy Minstrels reached the top 40 folk hits numerous times with songs including “This Land Is Your Land,” “Green, Green,” “Today” and “Ramblin’.” All which will have you walking down memory lane with Florian at the helm.
“They bring me back as well,” said Florian. “The song ‘Today’ is a personal favorite and one that was a big hit for The New Christy Minstrels. I’ve sung it a 1,000 times, but it continues to feel brand-new. It allows me to live in the moment and realize how great life is no matter how old we are. That is always the hope for my audience as well.”
Florian is there to provide entertainment, but he’s also grateful for the shared experience.
The show itself is a nod to a pivotal decade in the American folk music revival. It’s an education that remains both timeless and poignant.
IF YOU GO
What: “Those Were the Days” with William Florian
When: 7 p.m. March 31
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave, Tybee Island
Cost: $20 adults; $25 premium seats; $10 children 12 and younger
By Anna Chandler/ConnectSavannah
ke a trip down memory lane with William Florian.
As a former member of The New Christy Minstrels, the Grammy-winning folk music group responsible for hits like “This Land Is Your Land,” “Green, Green,” and “Today,” Florian was a key component in the early ‘60s folk revival. He’ll share songs from his tenure as lead singer of the Minstrels and add in other favorites of the time, including music by Peter Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger, John Denver, The Mamas & The Papas, and more.
With stories and memories sprinkled throughout, it’ll be a journey to the past that captures the true spirit of the 1960s folk revival.
Friday, March 31, 7 p.m., $20 adults, $25 premium seats, $10 for children 12 and under
By Ben Goggins/SMN
A grande dame arrived at the Tybee Post Theater on March 18. She is an 1879 Steinway piano, and on March 22, she was being tuned by Talahi Island resident Anne Acker.
“Like you let a fine wine breathe, we had to give her a few days to acclimate from the rigors of her trip,” she said. “When she left our shop in Pennsylvania last week, there was 3 feet of snow on the ground.”
The piano was donated by a generous family in New Jersey and then meticulously restored by Acker, her husband Chris and their colleague Paul Gebhart. Acker, who plays harpsichord with the group Savannah Baroque and with the Savannah Philharmonic, is a historic keyboard specialist.
“This piano is a perfect size for this space, and she was made by the finest craftsmen during the golden age of piano manufacturing,” Acker said. “We restored her as a labor of love.”
New strings came from the Tennessee company, in business since 1850, which made the originals. Her rosewood was carefully refinished. Every bolt, screw and hinge was re-nickel-plated by a Connecticut company. Exact historic decals came from a specialist in Minnesota.
Acker tunes with the same technique as Franz Mohr, tuner for Vladimir Horowitz and former chief concert technician for Steinway.
“This is a really big deal for us. Sound like this is magical,” said Tybee Post Theater executive director Melissa Turner.
Board members Jim Kluttz and Bill Blakey listened as the sound filled the room and as Acker explained the intricacies of tuning, while playing a little Chopin. And the grande dame seemed to feel right at home on Tybee.
By Jim Reed/SMN
Those of you who’ve been reading Film Scene for a while now are surely aware that the restored, historic Tybee Post Theater out on lovely Tybee Island has carved out a niche for itself by primarily programming one-night-only revivals of either classic or popular Hollywood pictures from decades past on its single screen, when its stage is not being used for live musical or comedy shows, that is.
That trend continues with the intimate, 200-capacity venue’s March 23 showing of the 1952 MGM musical “Singin’ in the Rain” (which was previously screened just a tad over a month ago at downtown’s Lucas Theatre). Stanley Donen (“Damn Yankees!” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”) co-directed this beloved favorite with its magnetic star, Gene Kelly, and the film’s cast includes such luminaries as Donald O’Connor and the recently deceased Debbie Reynolds (Carrie Fisher’s mom, for those of you too young to know better). The script, while fictional, is closely based on the real-life confusion and upset that accompanied Tinseltown’s rough transition from silent films to those with synchronized sound (better known as “talkies,” till that term had run its course).
Packed with show-stopping, timeless musical and dance numbers, it’s been called the “Greatest Movie Musical of All Time” by the prestigious American Film Institute. Melissa Turner, executive director of the Post Theater, says she selected “Singin’ in the Rain” because it seemed like a “perfect follow-up” to the venue’s two-night engagement of the recent smash musical “La La Land,” which takes place on March 18-19.
You see, increasingly, the Post Theater is presenting special one- or two-day runs of contemporary motion pictures, such as that Oscar-winning Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone vehicle, or the similarly Oscar-winning drama “Fences” (starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis), which plays the Post on March 16-17. According to Turner, there are a significant number of Tybee residents who simply aren’t interested in making the drive from the island to Southside Savannah to catch even the biggest motion picture hits of the year. These blink-and-you’ll-miss-them bookings allow those folks to catch the occasional high-profile blockbuster (such as the sci-fi flick “Arrival,” which the Post showed a few weeks back to a strong turnout) just a few minutes’ drive or even walk from their homes.
It also gives Savannah area viewers who either had not gotten around to seeing such films in their initial first run — or perhaps want to enjoy them on the big screen again — a chance to do so while supporting a small, nonprofit theater. The drive to the beach isn’t that awfully long, folks. Pick up on it.
By Jim Reed/SMN
On March 9, the historic Tybee Post Theater presents a one-show-only booking of director John Schlesinger’s landmark 1969 counterculture drama “Midnight Cowboy,” starring the unlikely pairing of Dustin Hoffman (“Marathon Man,” “Lenny”) and Jon Voight (“Conrack,” “Anaconda”) as, two desperate, down-and-out, would-be prostitutes adrift in the seamy social underbelly of late-’60s New York City. Despite moments of genuine levity, “Midnight Cowboy” is a dark and depressing film, albeit a stunningly well-made and well-acted one.
Originally rated X in its earliest theatrical releases (because of an almost hilariously misguided and outdated notion that blatant homosexual content in any way shape or form would be dangerous for viewers between the ages of 18 and 21 to see), the film’s rating was later reduced to R as society’s views on sexuality caught up with Mother Nature’s. Still, just for a laugh, let’s raise a glass to the Tybee Post for proudly showing an X-rated film, shall we?
Despite its rating troubles, “Midnight Cowboy” wound up winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director — which I believe makes it the only X-rated film to ever win any sort of Academy Award. It also took home six BAFTAs (the U.K.’s equivalent of the Oscar). Look out for an amazing supporting cast, including memorable turns and cameos by the likes of Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vaccaro and the reliably terrific Bob Balaban. Showtime is 7 p.m., with $10 admission (which includes a glass of wine for those of legal drinking age, and a chocolate kiss). As one might imagine, this film is recommended for mature viewers.
Until next week, see you at the movies, be kind to those around you and don’t forget to turn off that cell phone.
By Anna Chandler/ConnectSavannah
NATIONAL sensation and hometown favorites The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra are getting back to their roots! Louisiana natives Jeremy Davis and Clay Johnson will lead their dynamic band in a tribute to their home state tradition this weekend.
The party kicks off with a VIP Mardi Gras gala complete with complimentary cocktails, Cajun hors d’oeuvres, naturally, king cake. Attendees are encouraged to arrive in Mardi Gras fashion—purple, green, gold, or parade-ready costumes are welcome.
After the gala, head into the Theater to hear the best of the Great American Songbook as performed by the tremendously talented, always-entertaining Orchestra.
Saturday, February 25, gala at 7 p.m., concert at 8 p.m., $50 for both, $25-30 concert only
By Jim Reed/SMN
On Feb. 23, the Tybee Post Theater presents a “Girls Night Out,” by showing controversial director Elia Kazan’s masterful 1951 silver screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Set in a rundown New Orleans tenement building, it focuses on the emotionally scarred former public school teacher Blanche DuBois and her relationships with family members and acquaintances after transplanting herself to the French Quarter.
The film is uncommonly close to its original stage production, owing to the fact that Kazan also directed the play on Broadway, and several key cast members (including Karl Malden, Kim Hunter and Marlon Brando) reprise their roles from that very same production. “Streetcar” resulted in Brando’s first Oscar nomination for Best Actor. In fact, the film set a record by becoming the very first motion picture to ever win an Academy Award in three distinct acting categories: Best Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role.
A triumphant showcase for charismatic personalities, “A Streetcar Named Desire” is surely one of the most mesmerizing motion pictures of its era, and one that still resonates strongly today, more than six decades later. Showtime is 7 p.m., with $10 admission (includes a glass of wine and a package of tissues in case you are overcome with emotion).
Until next week, see you at the movies, be kind to those around you and don’t forget to turn off that cell phone.