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Acclaimed musical searches for George Gershwin's musical roots

Westside Gazette - Fort Lauderdale, FL
February 28 – March 5, 2008

Arguably there has never been a more influential American composer than George Gershwin, but he remains a controversial figure in the musical cultural wars. The man who wrote standards sung by Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Dorothy Dandridge, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn and Oleta Adams, also penned one of the most infamous blackface musical numbers in history: Swanee as performed by Al Jolson. In collaborating with DuBose Heyward to create the landmark opera Porgy and Bess, Gershwin insisted the show be cast with African American singers who were shut out from performing in the country's theaters and opera houses in 1935. The original work opened to tepid reviews and has withstood charges of racism through the years, while at the same time the opera's classic Summertime has proven its universality by becoming a hit in diverse cultures around the globe.

The acclaimed 2002 theatrical concert examining the roots of Gershwin's music, The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, returns in a limited eight-performance run at the Parker Playhouse This illuminating 23-song show reunites the original cast and powerhouse band.

Born 110 years ago as Jacob Gershovitz in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gershwin grew up in more than two dozen apartments throughout New York including Harlem and was inspired by the African American musicians of the city's melting pot. Advocating for an acceptance of jazz in 1926, he wrote that the American soul “is Black and white ... all colors and all souls unified.”

Michael Paul Levin reprises the role of Gershwin in The Soul of Gershwin to take audiences on a journey through the musical and ethnic influences that stoked Gershwin's creativity, including the intrinsic rhythms of blues and jazz, popular songs, opera, and Yiddish musical theater.

Composer-singer Bruce A. Henry, who has performed internationally with such artists as Bobby McFerrin, Stephane Grappelli, Buddy DeFranco and Natalie Cole, returns in the cast in the role billed as “The Griot,” a name for African oral historians and wandering musicians.

In addition to singing a rousing duet in the show with A Prairie Home Companion singer Prudence Johnson on I Got Rhythm, Henry's solos include There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York as well as Embraceable You, one of the musical sound bites included on the show's website at www.soulofgershwin.com.

The cast also includes Robert Marinoff, who has held 10 Cantorial positions with congregations throughout the U.S. while also performing in operas, oratorios and as a guest artist with symphonies.