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SCT to trace musical theatre's Jewish heritage

July 21, 2011

Pattye Archer affectionately refers to the set list for Starkville Community Theatre's summer musical revue as the "order of worship." Archer said she's used that nickname during all 11 of the SCT productions she has directed.
"I'm not sure where it came from," Archer said. "I just said it one night, and it stuck."
The nickname takes on a new meaning in light of the Jewish history behind the music of this year's revue. With "Liner Notes: From Tin Pan Alley to Today," SCT will present 33 popular songs by Jewish composers from across a century of theatre, film and radio.
The revue runs July 21-23 and July 28-30, with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets for the show cost $25 and include a dessert and champagne reception after each performance.
"A liner note is traditionally the information inside a CD cover that tells the story behind the music," Archer said. "We're doing a selection of 100 years of music by Jewish composers and telling the story behind where that came from."
Archer said the theme was chosen to coincide with a traveling exhibit now at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. "A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs" features images and posters from Broadway musicals and classic films, and it shares its name with a book by its curator, David Lehman. The exhibit opens Thursday and continues through August 25.
Archer said the musical selection was originally going to be limited to musical theatre, but it quickly became apparent that many of America's most popular recording artists were also Jewish. She said these include Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, and Barry Manilow.
"You wouldn't believe how many people are Jewish," Archer said. "We're trying to show how the music from Tin Pan Alley, from Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, evolved. Bob Dylan even referred to Irving Berlin as one of his biggest musical influences."
There are 33 songs in the "order of worship," and Archer said it was difficult distilling the selection down to those, let alone picking a favorite.
"For every song we picked, there are probably 100 we left out," Archer said. "They're all my favorites, but I selected 'Peg O' My Heart' because my mother's name was Peg, and it reminds my Dad of her."
Archer said "Liner Notes" will be SCT's 13th summer revue, and of the 15 performers, three have been in all 13 revues and six are joining the revue for the first time. One of the newcomers is Isa Stratton, also known as Babs Havock of the Mississippi Brawl Stars roller derby team.
"I really enjoy both, so it's kind of hard to balance, because I'm an officer with the derby girls," Stratton said. "If I had to choose between the two, I don't think it would be easy for me."
Stratton said "Liner Notes" will be her first theatrical performance in eight years. After heavy involvement in theatre, music, and other arts in high school and early college, she said, she became an art major and has missed singing ever since. That's why she decided to get back into theatre with a musical revue, she said.
"I've done set work for Starkville Community Theatre, but this is my first time in a show here," Stratton said. "I was always in choirs and show choirs and musicals. It's something I've done all my life."
M.J. Etua, a veteran of all 13 summer revues, said the newcomers were all very talented.
"I like this group because we really strive to create magic together with our voices," Etua said. "I really appreciate it when people are as invested in a performance as I am."
Etua said Archer had done a great job of selecting songs both audiences and performers enjoy. She said she felt privileged to sing her favorite song in the revue, "The Way You Look Tonight," sung by Fred Astaire in the movie "Swing Time," among other artists.
"That's one of the classics everybody knows," Etua said, "so I feel privileged to be asked to do it."

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