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 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 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.
From Broadway to the Beach! Broadway innovator Jim Wann, a part-time Tybee resident, will host a lively holiday concert to benefit the Tybee Post Theater, now in need of a new roof after Hurricane Matthew. Also performing will be popular standards and gospel singer Kim Polote, and Savannah’s “premier Soul and R & B Band,” Tradewinds, accompanied by Steven Bryan, formerly with Little Anthony And The Imperials, all bringing holiday songs, beach music, and dancing in the aisles!
Proceeds will go toward helping the theater, a one-of-a-kind local music and movie venue for Tybee, Savannah and the rest of the Coastal Empire. The 1930s theater reopened last year after a long community fundraising effort to restore the historic movie house into a performing arts and movie theater.
This special musical variety show will have two performances: Friday, Nov. 25 at 8 pm and Saturday, Nov. 26 at 4 pm. Tickets are available online at http://tybeeposttheater.org or by phone at 912-472-4790.
Jim Wann was lead composer and leading man of the Broadway hit “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” (Tony Nominee for Best Musical), the first Broadway show to put musicians on stage as major characters, now a popular style. Pump Boys remains a favorite in American theatres and has been performed all over the world. His collaboration with Bland Simpson and Don Dixon, “King Mackerel & The Blues are Running: Songs And Stories Of The Carolina Coast,” was presented as a fundraiser to help restore Tybee Post Theater in 2002 and 2006, on a stage outside the Lighthouse on Tybee’s North End, produced by his wife Patricia Miller.
“Patricia and I love the Tybee Post Theater, and have always supported its restoration,” says Wann. “Now’s the chance to continue, in a concert with some of my favorite Savannah artists, to celebrate Tybee, the holidays, and give thanks at Thanksgiving time, that we can make music in this wonderful venue. It’s all about neighbors coming together and celebrating our community, which the Tybee Post Theater embodies so well.”
Recently honored as the 2016 Artist of the Year by the Sonata Music Association, Polote is still the only native of Savannah to win the gold medal in the American Traditions Vocal Competition. From performing with Al Green, Harry Connick Jr, Charlie Daniels, singing for President Jimmy Carter at his church in Plains Georgia, to cooking and singing on the Food Network with her friend Paula Dean, our internationally renowned songstress inspires and unites through the gift of music and sometimes historical portrayals. In the documentary, Savannah and the Civil War, the character of Susie King Taylor is reenacted by Ms. Polote. The Saint Vincent’s Academy graduate recently released her latest Nashville recording entitled “Change”. Other recording projects include a CD saluting Johnny Mercer, “I Thought About You,” and also a Christmas CD “Seasons of Love”.
The Tradewinds Rhythm and Blues Band has been bringing its crisp verve and energy to parties, weddings, hotels and nightclubs in and around Savannah for over 20 years. Voted Savannah’s Best Band, this local institution of Soul, R&B and Motown hits also performs Jazz, Blues, Beach, Pop and Easy Listening favorites. Tradewinds band members have performed as sidemen with Rock and Roll and R&B legends including Little Richard, Sam the Sham, the Coasters, Dee Clark, Mitch Ryder and others. The four member core group can expand to seven for the maximum layered, powerful sound.
Keyboardist Steven Bryan has toured throughout the U.S. and Europe with national recording artists “The Coasters,” and with Little Anthony’s Imperials. A Savannah native and Tybee resident, Bryan has served as musical director/sideman for numerous jazz and rock groups nationally but is currently freelancing.
By Anna Chandler/ConnectSavannah
Since teaming up for The Accomplices’ unforgettable EP release show at the Georgia State Railroad Museum, The Accomplices and Folly Beach’s Dangermuffin have become regular collaborators and bill-sharers. Now they’re back, with a special performance at Tybee Post Theater.
For eight years, Dangermuffin has been a folk favorite, blending roots rock with Americana, jam, and Lowcountry easy-livin’ vibes. On their latest album, Songs for the Universe (2014), the band employed pitch shifts and frequencies that are considered to be harmonious with the human body. The band of vegans value a respect for our planet and its healing powers. Keller Williams fans won’t want to miss “Little Douglas,” a collaboration that features the guitar virtuoso on bass and backing vocals.
Saturday, September 10,
8 p.m., $20, all-ages
By Linda Sickler/SMN
It’s time for a trip down memory lane to the days when Elvis Presley was alive and swinging.
On Sept. 3, the Tybee Post Theater will stand in for a Las Vegas nightclub as Russ Lanier and his Dream Team Band present“Down at the End of Lonely Street,” a musical extravaganza with a full nine-piece band complete with horns and backup vocalists.
Lanier himself will portray a convincing Elvis, an act he’s perfected over time.
“In the past probably six years, we’ve done a big stage show called ‘Viva Las Vegas.’” Lanier says. “We have kind of tailored it down and called it ‘Down at the End of Lonely Street,’ a two-set show; one in black leather and one with the early concert Elvis from 1970 to 1971.”
No humorous Elvis parody played for laughs, this is a tribute to The King from one of his biggest fans.
“I wouldn’t wear a jumpsuit for a long time,” Lanier says. “I’ve always done the younger Elvis. I had long, curly hair and it was easy for me.”
A certified public accountant by day, Lanier knows all of the songs Elvis performed.
“There are about 52 to 55 songs that I want to do every show, which is too many,” he says. “The most I’ve done in one show is 35, although I usually do 27. There are always a few fans who ask why I didn’t do that one song they love most of all.”
With 12 band members, including five horns, as well as seven backup singers, there can be as many as 20 people on stage at one time.
“I’ve also used dancers in the past,” Lanier says. “It is a very Christian-based group.
“I’m a past worship leader at First United Methodist Church in Statesboro. One of the shows we’ve done in the past was all gospel music with a quartet.”
The one thing all Dream Team members share is a love for Elvis and performing his music.
“There was only one Elvis and we don’t try to out-Elvis Elvis,” Lanier says. “We take it very seriously.
“We do it the same way he did, whether it’s the live version or the concert version. We do it seriously and sincerely.”
While Lanier has done the big band show for about six 1/2 years, he has been entertaining audiences as Elvis for many years throughout the Southeast.
“I’ve done some shows with the Miss Georgia pageant circuit,” he says. “I’ve done local entertainment throughout the region.”
After raising funds, Lanier was able to bring the band together.
“We’ve traveled all over Southeast Georgia and gone up to Nashville,” he says. “We performed some showcases in Nashville.
“We kind of sit ready to go and could go somewhere every week and love it,” Lanier says. “We all have day jobs, so we do this part-time.”
In addition to performing, Lanier has written a children’s book, “The Caterpillar Cowboy.”
“I dedicated it to my wife and daughter,” he says. “It was published in 2012 and republished a year ago.
“It’s the first book in a three-part series. Finding time to follow through right now is more time than I can dedicate to it.
“I don’t bring records and T-shirts to concerts to sell,” Lanier says. “I bring my books to sell and will probably bring some to Tybee.”
Lanier has loved Elvis’ music his whole life.
“My siblings were much older than me,” he says. “I grew up in a house where Elvis was always on the record player.
“By this time, he was no longer the 1950s Elvis, he was the 1960s Elvis. He was already the jumpsuit Elvis.
“My mother loved Elvis,” Lanier says. “I started singing a lot in church and sang in high school and college. I learned to sing by putting my voice with Elvis and B.J. Thomas.”
By that time, Elvis was wildly popular.
“Every guy wanted to be Elvis and every girl wanted Elvis to be theirs,” Lanier says. “My most favorite song is ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’
“We are doing so many of his songs that I love in this current run. So many of his songs are so passionate.”
His Elvis shows often sell out.
“Probably the most surprised I’ve ever been was when we did a show in Millen four years ago,” Lanier says. “We had no idea how many people would show up.
“It was a 500-seat venue, and some of the older seats had no bottoms, yet every seat was filled.
“When we did the ‘American Trilogy’ at the end of the first set, people were crying,” he says. “They all stood up and it was probably one of most moving things I’ve seen.”
“Amazing Grace” also gets a big reaction.
“These are the songs that mean so much to people,” Lanier says. “If he was alive, Elvis would be 81 years old.
“It is 60-year-olds and 70-year-olds who are the first ones to buy seats on the front row,” he says. “But young kids love Elvis, too.”
Lanier is looking forward to playing the Tybee Post Theater.
“The stage there is beautiful,” he says. “It’s similar to the Emma Kelly stage in Statesboro.
“We won’t have quite the same number of performers as usual. We will cut back on the horns and singers, but it won’t diminish the show at all.”
Lanier’s only regret is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to perform.
“I wish I had more time and energy to devote to this,” he says. “Everybody wants to be Elvis.
“When you watch something and study it and study it and love it and love every little nuance of every song, you’re hooked. The band is phenomenal.
“They’re good enough, they can play with anyone,” Lanier says. “They’re probably better at what they do than what I’m doing.”
One of the reasons for the success of the group is because it’s different, Lanier says.
“Our group is the only group I’m aware of that has a ready-to-go 10- to 19-piece band at any time,” he says. “We could go to New York, Las Vegas or Atlanta next week.
“There is a stigma with Elvis-type acts because everybody does it. This is serious business for us.
“We’re professionals, but this is not what we do for a living,” Lanier says. “We’re willing and ready and I regret we don’t have the opportunity to go more places and do it.”
Lanier promises the Tybee show will be rocking.
“There will be black leather involved,” he says. “We’ll probably have some form of different attire for the second set.
“We try to be very respectful,” Lanier says. “I hope the audience responds and appreciates that.”
IF YOU GO
What: Russ Lanier and his Dream Team Band present “Down at the End of Lonely Street”
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 3
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
Cost: $25 or $22.50 for members
Info: www.tybeeposttheater.org, 912-472-4790
By Linda Sickler/SMN
Comedian Bengt “The G is silent” Washburn says fame can be fleeting in the stand-up comedy business.
While Washburn has been seen on “Conan,” “Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and is heard daily on SiriusXM Radio, he says comedy can be a tough career.
“It’s a fame-driven business, but that’s short-lived now,” Washburn says. “Nowadays especially. They cycle through people so fast.”
Washburn took the long way to a comedy career.
“I grew up Mormon in a tiny town in Utah, but I’m not Mormon now,” he says. “I was a missionary in Seattle, Wash.
“Back then, we had to go door-to-door. It was a Spanish-speaking mission, so I tried to learn Spanish, but I didn’t do very good job.”
Later, Washburn earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art at Indiana University.
“That didn’t turn into money,” he says. “I couldn‘t get a job.”
In high school, Washburn had tried stand-up just for fun at an assembly,
Just announced! Starting the second week in June, the Post begins showing family-friendly movies at 3 and 7 pm most weekdays! Bring the kids for a perfect escape from the hot summer sun after a morning at the beach or surf camp!
Here’s our June listings; mark your calendars!
By Linda Sickler, Savannah Morning News
The strong friendship between Eddie Venegas and Ricardo Ochoa has survived time and distance.
“We are both from Venezuela,” Ochoa says. “We had the same violin teacher and became friends because we were in the same studio.
“We had very similar lives down there. We both got jobs in the Venezuela Philharmonic, so at a young age, we were both professionals.
“He introduced me to surfing,” Ochoa says. “We really bonded as young kids.”
“We’re basically like brothers,” Venegas says. “We went to the same schools and played a lot of music together in all kinds of styles.”
Ochoa moved to the United States, and a few years later, so did Venegas. They’ve managed to stay in touch and on June 2, will reunite for a concert of Latin jazz at the Tybee Post Theater.
Venegas discovered music as a child when his parents took him to a symphony concert.
“I fell in love,” he says. “I don’t remember it, but my parents told me when I got home, I started mimicking the violin section, so my father bought me a violin.”
Later in life, Venegas learned to play the trombone.
“In college, someone loaned me a trombone and I was using it as a hobby, a way to kill time,” he says. “But I became more serious and am now a trombonist/violinist.”
That ability has given Venegas some unique opportunities, including a job with singer Marc Anthony.
“They needed some trombone and string parts for his music,” Venegas says. “Their music director knew I played both.
“I came in and was part of it after that,” he says. “There’s a big violin solo that is sort of a feature in those concerts.”
Venegas really enjoys working with Anthony.
“It’s nice to be part of a performance and hear the feedback of the audience,” Venegas says. “It works like clockwork.
“We all have a big role. I play the violin and sing at the same time, then put it down and play the trombone. That sensation of playing with an ensemble together is really nice.”
For a time, Ochoa and Venegas were roommates in New York City.
“We lived at our teacher’s house,” Ochoa says. “We always helped each other and went to school together.”
Ochoa helped Venegas even before his arrival in New York.
“Right before he got on a plane to go to New York, he got robbed at gunpoint and they stole his violin,” Ochoa says. “He was coming from an orchestra rehearsal.
“He called me and said, ‘I don’t know what to do now. I don’t have a violin.’
“I was lucky enough that I was playing an instrument that was loaned to me by my teacher,” Ochoa says. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about that, I’ll give you my old violin.’”
While Venegas stayed in New York, Ochoa moved to Pittsburgh to earn his master’s degree and then moved to Savannah.
It was while the two were studying at Queen’s College that Venegas took up the trombone.
“I started playing trumpet, but it only lasted two weeks,” Ochoa says. “I didn’t have the patience for it, but he kept going with the trombone until he became so proficient, it led to some really good opportunities.
“There are several YouTube videos of Marc Anthony in concert where it’s pretty exciting to see Eddie,” Ochoa says. “For years and years, I’ve been wanting him to come to Savannah so we can perform together again. We always played together when we were younger and there were a lot of sparks when it came down to creativity and performance.”
In addition to music, Venegas has worked with his wife, Karin, to create the film “Unafraid: Voices from the Crime Victims Treatment Center,” which is about sexual assault victims. It has been presented at film festivals throughout the United States.
“I wrote some music and did the cinematography and my wife directed,” he says. “We got some distribution, which was very exciting.
“The film is also about the center my wife’s mother founded with friends in New York City. It was one of the first centers founded to help sexual assault victims and domestic violence victims.
“They also revolutionized the way authorities collect evidence and came up with their own rape kit,” Venegas says. “Before that, they needed two eyewitnesses, otherwise they couldn’t prosecute.”
Ochoa is the program director at Tybee Post Theater and a member of the popular local band Velvet Caravan. He also has founded a new band, the Lowcountry Jazz Collective.
Venegas is looking forward to the opportunity to play with Ochoa again.
“He came to visit last summer and we had a chance to catch up,” he says. “But it’s never enough. We go back a long time.
“He’s put together a pretty nice band. We’ve got a pianist, a bassist, two violins and a Latin percussionist.
“There’s always some experimentation that comes with this,” Venegas says. “Some of the pieces we’ll play are ones I’ve done with my string quartet, the Sweet Plantain Quartet. I’m going to modify them for this band. There’s always a lot of learning and growing from this kind of experience.”
Ochoa’s job at the theater gave him the opportunity to bring Venegas here. They also will perform at the Jazz Corner in Hilton Head at 8 p.m. June 3 and 4.
The Lowcountry Jazz Collective is a group Ochoa formed recently. It features him on violin, Eric Jones on piano, Dave Masteller on bass and Gino Castillo on percussion.
“I had intended to develop a Latin jazz band about 10 years ago with Eric Jones on piano,” Ochoa says. “Gino Castillo, who lives in Charleston, is probably the best and only Latin percussionist in the region. “He originally is from Ecuador but lived in Cuba. This is the first time Gino and Eric and I have played together.
“This is a unique situation we hope grows and serves both Savannah and Charleston,” Ochoa says. “There really is no Latin jazz in Savannah and I would love to see more.”
The concert will be an original show covering the history of Latin violin, from Charanga style to modern Latin Jazz. Charanga originated in Cuba and uses strings with Latin music.
“Back in the days that Cuba was open, they had elaborate shows where they would have big orchestras combined with Afro-Cuban music,” Venegas says. “Out of this came Charanga music, which is a smaller version of that. I paid for college in New York City playing Charanga gigs.
“I had the privilege to play with these bands during college and learn the Latin styles with violin,” he says. “Combined with the classical music I was studying at the time and jazz classes I was taking at the time, those are the sources of what I play today — a mix of Latin Charanga style from the ’70s jazz, and classical music, which is always a part of it.”
At the Tybee Post Theater, Charanga music will be included in the mix.
“It’s a style that precedes salsa,” Ochoa says. “It was popular in the 1950s and early ’60s and it had a lot of violins and guitars, not so much brass instruments.
“Brass took over and made everything louder. We’re going to dig into some of that music and go into the history of Latin jazz with some really fun songs that are very accessible and dance-able. We might even play some American songs that we turn into Latin jazz.
“We hope we have a good group of people to enjoy the show,” Ochoa says. “It’s going to be very fun and very different than anything we’ve had, not only in the Tybee Post Theater, but in the area.”
IF YOU GO
What: Violinist Eddie Venegas with the Lowcountry Jazz Collective
When: 8 p.m. June 2
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave., Tybee Island
Info: 912-472-4790, www.tybeeposttheater.com