Jonesborough Repertory Theatre brings the 1940s Harlem jazz scene to Main Street of Tennessee’s oldest town with their current production of “Swing!”
“Swing!” — a musical revue conceived by Paul Kelly in 1999 — celebrates music from the swing era of jazz (1930s–1946). The musical includes many well-known tunes by artists like Duke Ellington, William Basie, Benny Goodman and others.
The original Broadway production of “Swing!” received six Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical for the year 2000. Jennifer Schmidt, director of Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s production, said “Swing!” is also a hit in Jonesborough.
“We performed Swing! eight years ago at (Jonesborough Repertory Theatre), and it has been our most requested show by patrons, cast members and band members to return to our stage,” Schmidt said.
The show opens with a not-so-gentle reminder that the jazz from America’s golden age of music is what the audience is there for.
“What good is melody, what good is music, if it ain’t possessing something sweet? … There’s something else that makes the song complete,” sings Lucas Schmidt in the opening scene. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!”
Only a few minutes into the show, the audience is captivated by the intense stunts featured in “Throw That Girl Around,” a high energy dance-centric number with, well, lots of girls being thrown around.
Scatting, another musical style from the era, is featured in “Bli-Blip,” a light-hearted number where very few audible words are sung. The song’s story of a first date almost gone wrong but happily reconciled is told through scatting, in a hilarious, animated fashion. “Swing it, Brother, Swing” opens the second act on the right foot, quite literally, with a tap battle between dancers and the on-stage jazz band. The audience was nearly on their feet after this number during the opening weekend’s performance.
“Bill’s Bounce” is the dance highlight of the show. This number takes audience members on a journey through the various steps and styles of dancing from this period, said Lindy Ley, the show’s choreographer. “Our most extensive and elaborate dance number in the show is ‘Bill’s Bounce,’ where we attempt to showcase a wide variety of styles into a ‘history of swing dance’ montage,” Ley said.
This show will be the fourth production of Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s 2015/2016 season. The cast of “Swing!” includes more than 30 local actors and a live band.
Shows will run from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 for general admission and $14 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at 423-753-1010 or go online to jonesboroughtheatre.com.