Sunday, August 20, 2017

David conquers Goliath...again!

Well, this afternoon, noted theater organist Dave Wickerham came back for another taste of the three-manual, 21-rank Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ at Omaha's Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center.

It was the second time in three years that the Californian-turned-Arizonan-turned-Michigander concertized for the Omaha-based River City Theatre Organ Society. 

And just as he did in 2015, Dave hit it out of the park.

Except this time, it was a tape-measure home run. 

Dave kicked off his 2017 show with a "Happy" medley, where he hitched "C'mon, Get Happy" to "I Want to Be Happy."

Once the medley became water under the bridge, Dave- now the co-manager/organist in residence at the Crystal Theater in Crystal Falls, MI- told the huge audience at the Rose Theater that he wanted to take the Omaha crowd through several musical themes.

With that in mind, Dave went back to what's now the only concert-ready theater pipe organ in the whole state of Nebraska and delivered Scott Joplin's "Original Rags," then followed it up with a medley from "Mary Poppins," the 1964 theatrical movie that put Julie Andrews on the map for good. (All she did was pick up an Oscar for playing the title role.)

Keep the word "movie" in mind as you keep reading this post. 

Before attending today's concert, I thought "Colonel Bogey March" was written for the 1957 big-screen smash (and seven-Oscar winner) "The Bridge on the River Kwai." 

It wasn't.

The tune goes all the way back to 1914, when a man named Kenneth J. Alford (1881-1945) came up with the march. (His real name was Frederick J. Ricketts.)

When Dave played "CBM" today, he really made the audience feel it. 

Another theme Dave wanted to touch on was the Great American Songbook...and the first move in that direction was to fire up "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "Take the 'A' Train," two tunes made famous by Duke Ellington (who cowrote "Light" while one of his most famous arrangers, Billy Strayhorn, penned "'A' Train").  

Leonard Cohen's most familiar number, "Hallelujah," got into Dave's menu...and gave lie to the idea that songs written right here in the 21st Century can't work if played on a theater organ.

And then...the Encino Man paid tribute to John Williams (that's right, five-time Academy Award-winning John Williams).

After the ensuing medley (the longest medley in this afternoon's concert), it was intermission time.

Fifteen minutes or so later, Dave got back on the now 90-year-old organ to play three dance tunes from the 1920s...two of which were "Doin' the Raccoon" (a 1928 ditty written by Raymond Klages and J. Fred Coots) and the more familiar "Charleston."  

Then the audience was treated to a "Pie Fight." 

Actually, the film's title is "The Battle of the Century," and it came out in 1927- the very year the then one-year-old Paramount Theater (the Rose's original name) received the organ Dave triumphed on. 

And all that's left of this Stan Laurel-Oliver Hardy romp are the opening credits and...well, the three-minute pie fight (the biggest one ever filmed up to that time). 

In years past, RCTOS concerts paired a big-name theater organist with a local act.

This time, the Rose Theater audience became the local the form of an audience singalong. And after cuing up the three-minute-and-forty-second movie, Dave accompanied the crowd in longtime singalong favorites like "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and "Bicycle Built for Two." 

Now it was back to the movies for Dave as he turned in a great version of the Oscar-winning "My Heart Will Go On," one of the many reasons the 1997 movie "Titanic" remains so memorable. 

Time was running out on the performance, and Dave knew he went on and knocked out two Cole Porter numbers, two by Irving Berlin, and two by George Gershwin in a "2-2-2" medley. 

It's hard to stage a Rose Theater Mighty Wurlitzer get-together without a patriotic medley...and this year's edition passed the test, too. This year's patriotic tribute started with the theme songs from all five of America's Armed Forces branches (from "The Caissons Go Rolling Along" to a stirring, stirring version of "The Marines' Hymn"), went to "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)," and morphed into "America the Beautiful."

"God Bless America" and "You're a Grand Old Flag" would've made the cut, too...if they hadn't been part of the singalong. 

We weren't going to let Dave get away to his next stop (Manchester, England) without an encore.

Result: Dave put an exclamation point on the end of his Rose romp by performing a classical piece. (Man, I wish I knew its title!) 

If you like theater organ music and you've never heard Dave Wickerham, check his music out...whether it's in person, on YouTube, or some other way.

You'll come away happy, too.