THEATRE CONCERT REVIEW: AN EVENING WITH GENE NORDAN & FRIENDS

Jacksonville Beach’s Players by the Sea and sponsors Clarence and Corkie Gooden presented two showings of an evening with Gene Nordan on Friday and Saturday, January 30-31, 2015. This is an after the fact review, but the show was so unique we wanted to record it in print.

The purpose of this show was as a fund raiser for Players By The Sea, but to the full house audience and the supporting cast, it was a tribute to Nordan as a talented entertainer and an all-around really nice guy.

A bit of background is in order. Beginning in 1970, Nordan was a major Beaches attraction at the helm of the Piano Bar at Le Chateau in Atlantic Beach, Florida; he remained for 13 years, until the closing of the venue. Since then, he has been a busy man, writing, and performing at corporate and private events, in hotels, restaurants, and other settings. He has played on cruise ships in Europe and South America, and also uses his talents to entertain those living in retirement homes.

The evening was like going to a supper club. The upscale Jaxon Social restaurant and its staff served delicious pre-show hors d’oeuvres from its popular restaurant on Beach Boulevard.

The curtain opened at 8:00 pm, with Gene center stage at the grand piano. The setting was that of a nightclub, with cocktail tables featuring red tablecloths and candles on each side of the stage. The accompanying musicians, Larry Nader (Bass), Scott Mariash (Percussion), and Alex Hernandez (Saxophone, flute, clarinet), were also on stage.

Nordan opened the evening with a selection of piano tunes that ran the gamut from classic to pop. Then magic happened, as Nordan, and his stage filled with guest singers, seemed to open up an American Songbook filled with iconic standards that catered to grownup sensibilities. The audience, mainly an older crowd, loved the songs that have lasted and will remain as standards through the years. For the patrons from a younger generation, these charmed melodies were brand new.

Long time beach resident Peg Paschal opened the songbook with “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” Juan Unzueta followed with “Blue Skies,” one of several songs he sang during the evening. Hector Gonzalez crooned the popular “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera,” and followed this with the moving “MacArthur Park.”

Phyllis Johnson, who does most of her singing in church, hit a retro-sweet spot with her powerful renditions of “At Last,” and “Blues in the Night.” Milton Threadcraft started in music as a drummer, then suddenly discovered he could sing! He had the crowd rocking and clapping with “Mack the Knife” and Fats Waller’s “Your Feet’s Too Big.”

Sally Kinney changed the pace a bit and took us down Mexico way with “Besame Mucho,” the most popular song set to bolero rhythms that was ever written. She then paired with Harry Leeds, her former singing partner (of Sally and Harry), in a comic routine. Harry sang his famous “Mortgage Song” from “The Piano Bar at the Chateau,” an original musical written by Gene Nordan. Leonard Cross also recreated his original role in “Chateau” as the Bartender “Stan the Man,” and sang the oldie “Have You Met Miss Jones?”

Gene and the band played all the music for these songs, and in addition performed a number of vintage piano bar vocals.

One of the most interesting songs Gene introduced was, “Flat Foot Floogie,” a 1938 song done by several people including Louis Armstrong. It has a special place in history, as a copy was placed in a Westinghouse time capsule and buried at the site of the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, New York; the opening of the time capsule is scheduled for the distant future, 5,000 years after the burial.

Another highlight of the evening was Juan Uzueta’s presentation of a song Nordan wrote some years ago, entitled “After the Fall,” a moving love song performed with a depth of feeling and lyrical polish that elevated the material to grand and glorious.

The evening ended on a high note, with the entire company singing “Summertime.” A good time, no, a grand time, was had by all. If you missed this show, you missed a good one and we offer our thanks to Gene Nordan and his many talented friends for two of the best hours ever spent in a theatre.

Thanks also go to Jim Wiggins for the expert lighting and excellent sound design.

As we were leaving, we overheard a patron proclaiming in conversation that Gene Nordan “looks eternally young!” We agreed, but refrained from pointing out the obvious: “It must be the music, lady! It must be all that music!”

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.