Music you don't know but you'll remember
Unless you are a real fan, asking who Harold Arlen is will probably bring a blank stare.
Hum a couple of lines from just about any of Arlen’s 500 songs and you will know exactly who we are talking about.
Stormy Weather, That Old Black Magic. No? How about Over the Rainbow, and a handful of other songs from the original Wizard of Oz movie?
Adrian Marchuk, knows who Arlen was, both the power of his music and the mystery of how a man could write so much and still stay below the radar.
Theater audiences in Collingwood will have a chance to experience this and more when Marchuk brings his story concert Over the Rainbow, the Harold Arlen story to Collingwood Aug. 15 to 19.
“I have wanted to do a show on Harold Arlen for years, I love his music it’s so rich, and he has this fascinating story, everybody knows his music but they don’t know the person,” said Marchuk, who wrote and stars in the production. “And that’s the big mystery. He has written all of these amazing songs, but he never got the name recognition like an Irving Berlin or a Cole Porter got.”
Audiences should know Marchuk well by now. When he wasn’t in plays and musicals such as Jersey Boys, he has brought three shows to Collingwood prior to this including his Richard Rogers show, The Sweetest Sounds and last year with his concert with the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Arlen, unlike a lot of the better-known composers, really started out as a gigging pianist. In many ways he was very comfortable as a gigging musician and that bleed over to his composing. He never planned to be a composer, Marchuk explained.
“He was a musician and singer; he used to accompany dance rehearsals. So one of the reasons why he never got really popular was that he was just bouncing around from gig to gig, from movie to movie, from lyricist to lyricist so he was never really associated with a consistent series of shows like say Rogers and Hammerstein,” said Marchuk. ”We know Broadway composers, but Hollywood composers don’t get very well known at all.”
Arlen was very much the man behind the curtain but he is at the forefront of the creation of the Great American Songbook. He was composing music for Hollywood how it could be; he made it more complicated, more dense, rich and beautiful, filled with gospel and roots influences. He was the son of a cantor, Marchuk said, so he pulled in all of those traditional Jewish synagogue melodies.
It is a rich musical background and only add to Arlen’s mystique. Here is someone who grew up in an orthodox household and ends up playing prohibition-era jazz clubs. It’s as interesting a story as any other composer of the time.
“When I was at the Shaw Festival, I did an evening of Harold Arlen music. I was cast. I didn’t organize but I was just blown away,” said Marchuk. “All I had known that he had written was from the Wizard of Oz, but all of this other music I heard, it’s just so powerful. It’s powerful, it’s catchy, beautiful and soulful. It has a distinct quality and as a singer ... it really is delightfully challenging to sing.
“Music transports us. One For My Baby and One More For The Road will always put you in a certain mood — those indelible lines, ‘Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky’ — that’s pretty darn good writing. The best writers really know how to tap into the primal emotions in all of us.”
Music director Chris Tsujiuchi, along with Thom Allison, Alana Bridgewater and Kelly Holiff, will join Marchuk.
Shows run Aug. 15, with a matinee Aug. 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 705- 445-2200.
“What we often hear from people is ‘I knew that I would like the music, but the stories behind the songs — I had no idea that all this happened.’ This is always a joy for me because you give people a show that you know they will love, but you give them more of what they weren’t expecting,” said Marchuk. “Love and loss, joy and whimsy (are) you are going to get through all of those in the show.”