If there had been any question as to whether the 59E59 Theaters complex is a Mid-Town Manhattan Mecca for presenting cutting edge variety in the performing arts, the current run of “The Anderson Twins Play the Fabulous Dorseys” would make it clear. The Theater ‘C’ setting was transformed into a delightful cabaret with café tables illuminated from above by the crimson accents of gaily fringed hanging lamps. The surrounding walls have a period charm of their own, decorated with posters, photos and musical instruments reminiscent of the Big Band Era during which Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey reigned in the big band ballrooms. Claustrophobics need not apply for attendance as the intimate room is tightly packed for 60 guests squeezed in four-at-a-table, but for those who can jump that hurdle you are in for a stunning musical ride down Memory Lane.
The handsome and youthful twins, Pete and Will Anderson, may be in their late 20’s, but they could pass for much younger. Nevertheless, their mutually brilliant talent has a rich musical maturity that is simply astonishing to witness up close in such a setting. Their sextet for this gig is solidly backed up by a somewhat fluid group of rotating musicians who bring high-quality musicianship to trumpet, drums, bass and piano. The printed program lists Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Ehud Asherie (piano), Kevin Dorn (Drums) and Clovis Nicolas (Bass), but audiences can anticipate occasional alternates in each of those supporting roles as was the case when talented Dave Baron took over on bass at the performance I attended.
For reasons that were not entirely clear to me, there was one peculiar glitch as the show prepared to get underway. The attractive performers, all smartly dressed in suits, ties and French cuffs, walked through the audience to assemble on the small corner bandstand that comprises the set. But then there was an awkward period of several minutes with the cast just sitting there looking at each other and out over the audience toward an open exit door. The audience waited politely as we all wondered what the delay was. Finally, a host from 59E59 stepped forward to give a brief introduction, and then it was off to the races for a truly stunning and creative musical tribute to the Dorsey brothers.
The show began quite cleverly with a surprisingly clear and audible projection of an episode of the old “What’s My Line?” television show hosted by John Charles Daly. The mystery guests were Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and after a series of amusing questions from the panelists, Dorothy Kilgallen finally correctly solved the mystery. With that the lights came up on the bandstand for a light, mellow opening with the Ray Noble tune, “Cherokee.” Next came a delicious Sy Oliver composition, “Opus One.” The musical virtuosity of the twins was immediately clear during the terrific solo moments that verified their Julliard credentials. (Pete plays tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet, while Will handles alto sax, clarinet and flute). Kellso’s solo segments would dazzle throughout the performance, with drums, bass and piano shining just as brightly.
Next, the genesis of the show’s “Those Fabulous Dorseys” title became more apparent with the first of a series of video clips from the 1947 film of the same name. Those clips guide us through childhood, adulthood and family life for the sometimes-feuding brothers. In between we have a live smorgasbord of musical goodies from the band that includes such treats as, “Dusk in Upper Sandusky,” “Hollywood Pastime,” “Runnin’ Wild,” “Beebe,” “Swanee River,” “After You’ve Gone,” and “Deep River.” Just about every number spotlights the considerable individual talents of the gifted ensemble. Kellso’s subtly muted trumpet softly starts a “Tangerine” that is sent quickly soaring, and then in an amusing takeoff on the feuding Dorseys in the film, the Andersons have an onstage feud of their own that results in the full cast angrily stalking off the stage for intermission.
But fear not. They return ten minutes later for a lush, “I’m Getting Sentimental,” the pounding excitement of “Song of India,” the prancing merriment of “Sunny Side of the Street,” and a fun-filled version of Claude Hopkins’ “I Would Do Anything For You.” “Oodles of Noodles” has Will soaring on sax, while Pete brings blues and soul to “Loose Lid Special.” There is a frisky rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Grand Central Getaway,” and a jazzy “Flight of the Bumblebee,” full of sharp edges with unexpected twists and turns.
For these identical twins with identical talent, George Gershwin’s, “I Got Rhythm” would be a joyful closer with Will shining on clarinet and Pete matching him on sax. One can’t help but admire the youthful enthusiasm this group brings to music that was written and popular before they were ever born. I heard a woman in the audience remark, “Maybe there’s still hope for great music!” In any event, one line in the film might apply quite nicely to the Anderson twins: “If they just stick together they can lick the world!”
THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS continues through October 7th at the 59E59 Theaters at 59 East 59th St. in Manhattan. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 PM, Fridays at 8:30 PM, Saturday at 5:30 PM and 8:30 PM, and Sundays at 3:30 PM. (There will be additional 7:30 PM performances on Sundays, September 23rd and 30th). Tickets are $25 (17.50 for 59E59 members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org .
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