Strictly Gershwin – Queensland Ballet, All Out Razzamatazz


George Gershwin was a charismatic man…

Presented by the Queensland Ballet, Strictly Gershwin their next program is a tribute to arguably the greatest American composer of the 20th century George Gershwin (1898-1937) and the big band era of the thirties. It will be presented in the Lyric Theatre at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, 27 May – 4 June 2016.

Adapted by Gareth Valentine with elegant, energetic, witty and romantic choreography by Derek Deane, those passionately in love with dance will be able to enjoy perennial favourites such as An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue, Summertime, Strike up the Band, Someone to Watch over Me, ‘S Wonderful, Shall We Dance, I’ve Got Rhythm and many more!

Having the Queensland Symphony ‘Jazz’ Orchestra live on stage will enliven new forms of balletic beauty that combine classical works with the stylistic nuances of popular music and jazz for what will be a very special evening

George Gershwin composed his music primarily for musical theatre on Broadway, varying techniques as he progressed, devoting himself to producing popular songs and orchestral compositions  After 1919 they seemed to roll out endlessly year after year. The adoring public loved it when popular singing hero Al Jolson performed Swanee.

Gotta Dance

Tribute to the music of George Gershwin, Strictly Gershwin, courtesy Queensland Ballet

He ensured that it became popular, selling more than two million recordings and a million copies of sheet music at the time, while making a young talented George Gershwin an overnight celebrity.  My mother sang it at every family gathering when I was little.

George Gershwin also composed scores for George White’s Scandals 1920 – 1924, a variety review that made his songs ‘Stairway to Paradise’ and ‘Somebody Loves Me’ both huge hit songs.

Popular in Hollywood films and sung and danced to by so many of the great celebrities of the day popular songs such as Fascinating Rhythm,” “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “Sweet and Low-Down,” “Do, Do, Do,” “Someone to Watch over Me,” “Strike Up the Band,” “The Man I Love,” “’S Wonderful,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “Bidin’ My Time,” were all captivating.

My sisters were a backing group who sang in cabaret, specialising in pop jazz and Gershwin songs. Despite their composer having passed, some of his classics were still an integral part of their musical repertoire, which I learned to sing and love from a very early age.

Many of the movies they featured in had been made in the 30’s and 40’s. They were often shown as the second feature at the movies for the Saturday matinee, which became a tradition for Australian children during the fifties and so Gershwin music assaulted my senses from an early age.

Gershwin 2

Tribute to the music of George Gershwin, Strictly Gershwin, courtesy Queensland Ballet

George’s older brother Ira Gershwin was the lyricist. He provided the ever-delightful witty and sometimes glib lyrics, which included popular slang.

They were acclaimed nearly as much as George’s compositions.

Costumes for the Queensland Ballet evening are by Italian born international designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, who has produced costumes for opera houses and ballet companies around the world.

She will recreate the elegance of the 30’s when Fred Astaire reigned supreme wearing top hat and tails as he danced with Ginger Rogers in flowing frothy frocks that showed off her lovely legs and easy relaxed dancing style.

After spending a week in Paris in 1926 Gershwin sent his hosts a thank-you postcard with a musical fragment marked “Very Parisienne” and labelled his subsequent composition An American in Paris a tone poem.

American in Paris a 1951 musical film inspired by the Gershwin orchestral composition.

Wide View Gershwin 2

Tribute to the music of George Gershwin, Strictly Gershwin, courtesy Queensland Ballet

Starring Hollywood’s favourite dancer Gene Kelly, it would bring George Gershwin’s former hits into the new age by winning six Academy Awards. The 17 minute ballet sequence with Gene Kelly and French dancer Leslie Caron was the climax of the film.

Cunxin and Dancer

Artistic Director Li Cunxin and dancer, courtesy Queensland Ballet

Amazingly it cost the studio approximately $450,000 to produce at the time a huge sum.

Danced to Gershwin’s music of his huge hit American in Paris composed 1927-8 Gershwin was quoted as saying “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere”.

It certainly helped to choose one of the main destinations for my generation’s travel plans for over three decades.

It was ‘Very Parisienne’ and I am sure the Queensland Ballet’s production will be infused with the city of love and light’s atmosphere and ‘jazz blues’.

Find your ‘fascinating rhythm’ – put on your tap or toe shoes and climb the stairway to Paradise.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

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Watch Al Jolson sing Swanee and look out for George Gershwin’s cameo in Rhapsody in Blue (1945)





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