Given its impeccable concept – a full-scale replication/tribute to 1930s cabaret shows – the anticipation was high for Monday night’s “The 1017 Club” and it delivered on all fronts.
The air was filled with tense excitement from the second you walked into Crowder Hall, a full 1930s-style orchestra onstage and ready to swing the night away. As directed by Keith Pawlak, the 2 hour performance hardly ever flagged thanks to the level of musicianship and the nonstop fleet of entertainers including Black Cherry Burlesque’s Bunny Boom Boom and magician Michael Howell. While it took a little bit for the band to warm up in the first half, the orchestra quickly found its footing and cycled through soloist showcases like “Twilight In Turkey” and “Jazznocracy.” The element of wild fun once crucial to the 1930s revues was not lost on Pawlak’s ensemble, the various musicians keeping the chronologically-appropriate selections at once loose but faithful. Trumpeter Glen Gross in particular gave a particularly spirited performance of Raymond Scott’s “The Toy Trumpet,” a wonderful pop tune that soon gave way to dancer Bunny Boom Boom’s most engaging performance.
One of the most impressive aspects of the show was the way in which it was staged with four tables placed onstage facing the band, further enhancing for the auditorium audience the illusion of peering into an actual cabaret club. Those seated at these tables were all dressed in lavish 1920s and 1930s fashion, taking part at various points in the performance in dancing and pantomimed conversations as the orchestra ran through its numbers. The presence of these “club guests” was a perfect example of what “The 1017 Club” was doing right, giving those in the audience a true taste of the atmosphere that made such clubs in the ‘30s so vital to the development of American jazz culture. Along with sparse but appropriate lighting and prop use, it was this framing devise that truly sold the charm of the show.
Of course even with the dancing and party guests, the true star of the show was the jazz. Selected by Pawlak and guest vocalist Johnny Crawford from the University of Arizona’s own jazz archives, the pieces never failed to delight, and with Crawford’s charismatic participation in the show’s second half the orchestra only got livelier as it got later. A born entertainer, Crawford brought a perfect balance of professionalism and playfulness to numbers like “A Cottage For Sale” and “Betty Co-ed,” taking time between his turns at the microphone to dance to the orchestra or entreat the young ladies at the stage tables to waltz with him. Crawford also showcased his softer side on beautiful songs such as “Moon-Glow” which displayed his lilting tenor for all it was worth. Aside from Crawford, the second half of the show also featured a small set from guitarist Skip Heller’s Hot Five. The group, which featured Heller and Josh Rhoads on guitars in addition to the exceptionally talented Miray Rhoads on violin, blasted through an all-too short set of three songs showing off Heller’s nimble technicality and a smart guitar/violin interplay that stole the show. Heller’s Hot Five was arguably the highlight of the night, putting the audience in a chipper mood for the orchestra’s grand finale “Christmas Night In Harlem.”
Yet in true cabaret fashion the casual fun of Crawford’s segment gave way to Pawlak’s announcement that the band still had a few songs left, the informality only adding to the swinging excitement reverberating around the hall. With a show-stopping version of “Winter Wonder Land” and the jazziest version of “Someday My Prince Will Come” you’re ever likely to hear, “The 1017 Club” came to a satisfying close. Far and away a highlight of the School of Music’s season, one can only hope they follow it up next year with a jazz tribute to the ‘40s.