Tuesday, August 25, 2015

High Energy

Finally, finally able to get back to blogging! (Things got so hectic these last sixteen days that I couldn't get back to the computer to post this...and I apologize for that.)

Sixteen days ago, Dave Wickerham (one of the best theater organists on Planet Earth) came to Omaha, where he knocked 'em dead at the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center, the facility better known as the Rose Theater.

It'd been three years since Dave previously concertized here in the Big O...and when he came back for the 2015 version of the River City Theatre Organ Society's annual fundraiser, he was in fine, fine form at the theater's three-manual, 27-rank 1927 Wurlitzer.

Initial fears were that not as many people this time around were interested in watching the Encino, CA native punish (okay, coax) the only concert-worthy theater pipe organ installation in Nebraska.  

But a great crowd at the Rose destroyed those fears.

And the audience members watched him lead off with a medley of "Get Happy" and "I Want to Be Happy."

We in the audience got happy, all right...and after the applause died down, Dave got into some banter, then launched into some of the Great American Songbook.

Dave W. kicked that segment of the concert off by saluting Irving Berlin, throwing in tunes like "What'll I Do," "Always," and the one that put Irving on the map for good: "Alexander's Ragtime Band." 

The next medley focused on...rain.

That's right, rain. Dave put together "Singin' in the Rain," "Laughter in the Rain," and "Stormy Weather." (Don't laugh at the inclusion of "Laughter," the youngest song in the concert at forty years of age. After all, Neil Sedaka had that Great American Songbook ethos, too...as did other Brill Building graduates such as Carole King and Barry Mann- to say nothing of the teams of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.) 

Now the focus was back on a single composer, this time George Gershwin...and this time, the organ tried to punish Dave by going into cipher mode.

He wasn't having any of that.

All Dave did was continue to play through the cipher during a medley that included favorites like "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Strike Up the Band."

It's not really an RCTOS concert at the Rose without a silent movie, and Dave turned to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy for this year's showing. This time, it was the 1926 film called "Putting Pants on Philip," where Stan played a kilt-wearing Scotsman and Ollie was the American who ended up taking him in.

The movie did its job, adding to the fun of the outing better known as "Let's Get Lost in the Music."

"Putting Pants" led to a fifteen-minute intermission; after that, Dave came back out...this time paying tribute to Duke Ellington and his longtime arranger, Billy Strayhorn. The tunes: "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and "Take the 'A' Train."

By the way...it's also not an RCTOS concert at the Rose if a nationally-known theater organist isn't paired up with a local act.

And for 2015, the local act was a five-man group known as Omaha Street Percussion.

When Omaha Street Percussion walked onto the Rose Theater stage and began to take to all those unorthodox forms of percussion (trash cans, trash can lids, etc.), the energy at the theater kicked up a notch...actually, a bunch of notches.

After the first selection, the men of OSP launched an audience-participation exercise: "We'll give you a beat, and we want you to clap to it." The left half of the throng got a different beat to clap to than the right half. 

The audience ate it all up, all right.

As one concertgoer put it: "High energy."

Two high-energy numbers later, Dave himself jumped in, joining OSP in the famous "Tico Tico." 

With the crowd all pumped up after OSP's segment of "Let's Get Lost," Dave ran the event's anchor leg, delivering a medley that he played at this year's American Theatre Organ Society convention (held mostly in Philadelphia, PA, with Atlantic City, NJ taking on the convention's other events).

Yep...it was a patriotic medley. (And yep...it brought the house down at this year's ATOS get-together.)

"Yankee Doodle" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy" got in there as part of Dave Wickerham's song cycle. "The Girl I Left Behind" and "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" were in there, too, along with "This Is My Country."

For the medley's last song, Dave motioned the audience into standing up.

And then, he took it all home with "God Bless America." (Many, if not most in the crowd, sang along.)

With Dave showing why RCTOS brought him back to the Big O to concertize, and with Omaha Street Percussion more than holding its own (okay...that's a real understatement!), this was one of the best fundraisers the local ATOS chapter ever staged.

All right...it was THE best!

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