*On Friday, May 13, Corky Hale presents I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU – The Life and Lyrics of Al Dubin, at the Montalban Theatre in Hollywood. This new musical features lyrics by Al Dubin, music mostly by Harry Warren, book by Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, and musical direction by Gerald Sternbach. The production is directed and choreographed by Kay Cole.
The Golden Age of Hollywood returns to the stage in the all-singing, all-dancing story of legendary 1930s lyricist Al Dubin, who along with composer Harry Warren and visionary film director Busby Berkeley and took movie musicals to new heights during the darkest days of the Great Depression.
Elijah Rock, a great fan of what he calls, The Great American Songbook, gets to perform the music of one of his music legends, Cab Calloway, in a featured segment of the production.
He spoke with EURThisNthat editor, DeBorah B. Pryor, about the experience.
“I have an interesting relationship to Cab Calloway. I have always included him in my act. In my musical performances with my band…I’ve had different size bands and orchestras and I always incorporated ‘Minnie the Moocher’ in my set. I actually did a recording of Minnie the Moocher with one of my previous bands and it became one of my signature songs when I would do a show.”
Rock says a friend of his called him to let him know about the show. “The next day I get a call from Michael Donovan, who casts a lot of the big shows in town, and he says ‘They want to see you for Cab.’”
At the audition, Rock says he didn’t sing his signature Cab Calloway song. Instead he sang other great tunes from the legend. “And of course, they booked me right away!” he says, rather nonchalantly on our telephone interview.
The entertainer recalls a special surprise from a friend who took him out to lunch on one of his visits to see his sister back home. At lunch the friend said, “Hey, I’ve got a surprise for you.” “He took me to the Cab Calloway Memorial, which is on the plot where his house used to be.”
The memorial is located in Rochester, New York.
“I was right there in his neighborhood. So you talk about God, his hand and full circle. It was definitely waiting to happen.”
See the photo of Elijah Rock at the Cab Calloway Memorial site directly below.
“You know I’ve always been singing the great American songbook,” says Rock. “All the way to the point that I have a big record coming out this Fall called “Gershwin for My Soul.” The artist says they will either go independent or with a major jazz label, and says they are looking at their options. “It was produced by Kevin Toney, who was one of the original members of The Blackbyrds. John B. Williams on bass. Just legends on the record.”
Rock describes the writing and acting in ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ as fantastic.
“The writers and actors are top notch. It’s definitely Broadway bound in terms of the level of script and actors,” says the Cleveland-born entertainer who travels back and forth, but currently makes L.A. his home.
With regard to his role in the production, Rock, who is one of three artists of color in the production says, “They gave me the show-stopper. The other featured artists, there’s a Carmen Miranda, an Al Jolson. Rock will be singing Luu’s Back in Town while wearing the classic white tux and tails that we remember the legendary Cab Calloway always wore. Rock says he also appears in several smaller parts throughout Act I.
Rock says he is enjoying the experience immensely and especially noteworthy is working with Corky Hale and the same team who launched the popular production, “Smokey Joe’s Café,” which also debuted at the Ricardo Montalban Theater, where this production takes place.
And in reference to the production itself, producer Corky Hale said, “Few Hollywood songwriters have hit the same heights as Al Dubin. The entire country was singing his songs, and when we think of the hits of his era, his are the lyrics that we hear. The man himself however lived a drama that was larger than the plot of any film that included his songs – and it is a fascinating and captivating story about a guy who had everything that life has to offer – and who couldn’t resist his addictions.”
Gershwin For My Soul, Rock’s upcoming record, will include jazz, disco, and pop. “It means a lot to me because I stand on the shoulders of the great crooners that have come before me like Al Hibbler, Arthur Prysock, Johnny Hardman, Nat Cole, Sammy [Davis, Jr.], all these guys and there’s really not one Black male in this category on the national scene so there’s a need.
I’m so happy with what Cécile McLorin Salvant’s doing. She won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal, and Gregory Porter. But African American males singing the great American songbook, of which we have contributed so much, I’m the only one at this level,” says Rock.
Rock also says a lot of people don’t really understand Gershwin’s music and its relationship to the African American community. How ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and ‘Porgy and Bess’ all came about.
“There’s a lot of meaning behind me coming out and doing this record,” he adds. “Doing the show, Words By Ira Gershwin last year and really leading with the Gershwin album. It’s classic and traditional, but we put our little spin on it,” he chuckles.
When the entertainer was asked how Black audiences have responded to this type of music and production in the past he says.
“Its all about access and what kids are exposed to. When they’re exposed to it, they love it! When we do matinee shows for inner city kids, for example, we did the Roland Hayes show. You had so many kids that would not have been exposed to this.”
Previews for “I Only Have Eyes For You” began on Tuesday, May 10. The show officially opens on Friday, May 13, and is performed through Sunday, June 12 at the Montalban Theater, 1615 Vine St. in Hollywood. Performances will be on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.
Tickets are available now at www.flavorus.com or by calling 1-323-461-6999.
Below watch the late Cab Calloway sing “Minnie The Moocher” Live at The Apollo Theater in New York City.