Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Enjoying the Ride

That's exactly what a packed house at Omaha's Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center did this past Sunday.

Doing the driving (courtesy of the River City Theatre Organ Society): Donnie Rankin, the 27-year-old Ohioan who's been wowing theater-organ audiences all over the world for the last nine years; and the Pathfinders, that award-winning barbershop chorus from Fremont, NE.

When Donnie climbed aboard the Rose Theater's three-manual, 21-rank Wurlitzer pipe organ (built in 1927) to deliver Busby Berkeley's "All's Fair in Love and War," he became the youngest performer to ever do a Rose Theater RCTOS concert. [He made club history a little after 3:00 PM (Central time).]

This year's program was titled "From Broadway to Hollywood," and Donnie made that message stick right off the bat. His next tune was George Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away from Me," from the 1937 movie "Shall We Dance." And that was followed up by a number Michel Legrand and the husband-and-wife team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman penned 32 years later for a movie called "The Happy Ending:" "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" 

Donnie showed his sense of humor right from the start, riffing from time to time about the Rose organ rising from (or getting lowered into) the pit: "I'd better not move to my left, or I'll fall into the abyss." 

Speaking of movies...after Donnie played "What Are You Doing," he gave a little demonstration of just what a theater organ was supposed to do for a silent film. (That's why Robert Hope-Jones developed the instrument in the first place; the folks at the Wurlitzer Company originally termed these products as "unit orchestras.") 

We then got to see- and hear Donnie cue- "One Week," one of Buster Keaton's early (1920) silents. (Buster was trying to use the title span of time to put up a prefab house, and...well, uh...)

Donnie R. closed out the first half of the 2016 RCTOS-Rose extravaganza with "Petite Waltz." 

When he came back out for Part Two, the man from the Akron area fired up two disparate selections: "The King Kong March" (from the 1933 movie) and good ol' "Take Five." (The 1958 Paul Desmond tune that put Dave Brubeck on the map was my favorite number in the whole show this past Sunday.)

Then came the Pathfinder Chorus.

Jacob Ritter's 90-member a cappella group- one of the twenty best barbershop choruses in the whole world- lived up to the billing and more, stirring up the crowd with six numbers. [The standouts were "Good Vibrations" (that's right, that "Good Vibrations") and a medley consisting of this country's five service-academy songs.] 

The barbershoppers' sixth number was actually a Pathfinders-Rankin collaboration that also celebrated America.

After the Pathfinders received thunderous applause, Donnie ran the concert's anchor leg...where he delivered "Over the Rainbow," the tune the American Film Institute determined was the greatest of the 100 greatest film songs. 

Donnie closed it out by playing a "Star Trek" medley to celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary. (That's right- on Thursday, 9-8-1966, Americans got their first opportunity to turn on their TV sets and watch NBC's new sci-fi series about James Kirk and his crew. And three months and two days later, the Beach Boys took their "Good Vibrations" to the top of Billboard's US pop chart.) 

Well, actually...the "Star Trek" tribute didn't close it out.

Donnie came back to knock out Milton DeLugg's "Rollercoaster," used in another old TV show, CBS' What's My Line? 

In all, "From Broadway to Hollywood" clocked in at about two hours and a half.

And the ride was so enjoyable the 150 minutes just flew right by. 

Thanks, Donnie! Thanks, Pathfinders!

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