Produced by: North California Arts Collective
Directed by: Gary Stanford Jr.
Choreographed by: Gary Stanford Jr.
Music direction by: Benjamin Sakaguchi
Featuring: Kymi Armour, James Creer, Melissa Gialdini, William Hester, Joe Hudelson, Leslie Ivy-Louthaman, Damian Marhefka, Jonah Price, Minna Rogers, Arielle Rothman, Gary Stanford Jr., Pasha Stanford
When: January 11-27, 2019
Where: Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Tickets: $25-$40. Go to https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3912868
from the time of slavery to the time of Martin Luther King Jr.
Music fans have the opportunity to take a historical guided tour some of America’s best music, thanks to Gary Stanford Jr. and his production, “Juke Joint Jukebox.”
The show, featuring an excellent cast of theatrical singers, offers “a historical perspective of juke joints, and their origination during slavery,” said Stanford during a recent phone interview, “showing how they grew into juke joints, and how folks traveled from south to north and ended up creating speakeasies in the north.”
Jukes, or jooks, were areas set up on plantations and farms where slaves could gather to listen to music and do some dancing on their days off. When slavery was banned, juke joints developed independently in the south. With the northward migration came the speakeasies, as Stanford mentioned, and honky tonks.
Stanford’s show features “a lot of the music associated with such establishments through different time periods.”
“It goes from the time of slavery to 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot,” Stanford said. “We try to pull off one hit after another. From the turn of the century (19th to 20th) with Scott Joplin, through Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, the Andrew Sisters, a young Dean Martin, a young Frank Sinatra.”
Some songs, such as "Wade in the Water" and "Follow The Drinkin' Gourd," have well-known roots in the music of slaves, especially those who escaped from bondage, but others, such as "Puttin' on the Ritz" and" "Hopelessly Devoted To You," seem like more of a reach.
“This music was played at juke joints,” said Stanford. “Cole Porter was known to be at speakeasies during prohibition, drinking with police and mayors in Greenwich Village.”
The show illustrates “how the culture was, how black and white performers brought their best and performed. It’s about the culture, how it enabled people to cut through bigotry and racism ... in these venues, even though the speakeasies were downtown, white people only, but they had black performers. And in Harlem, there were black performers and black audiences.”
There are 33 songs, including an overture written by Benjamin Sakaguchi (who also is music director and pianist for the show) and a finale.
But the show will move along briskly, said Stanford.
“We get in and get out,” he said. “There is narration throughout, talking about the time periods. I’m hoping people afterward will do their own research about the people and the times they lived in. These were wonderful decades of creativity.”
The time in which we now live, and our current president, are also in Stanford’s thinking.
“My entire life — 45 years — I have talked about racism almost daily,” said Stanford. “It’s hidden in our jobs, in our homeowner associations or school boards. You don’t know it exists until you experience it first-hand.
“Then, suddenly, Trump brings it out. The racism. We have to see what’s there to see how we got here. How we haven’t changed since the Civil Rights movement. All that great stuff happened, but nothing happened in the minds of conservatives.”
One of the great things that happened was that Frank Sinatra said he would not perform at places that were segregated, which is perhaps why the songs “Night and Day” and “The Lady is a Tramp” are both in “Juke Joint Jukebox.”
Sinatra wasn’t the only one, of course — the arts have long led the way to a better society. Maybe in some later iteration of “Juke Joint Jukebox” there will be Beatles tunes. When the Beatles toured America in 1964, their contract stipulated they would not play before segregated audiences.
This version of “Juke Joint Jukebox,” in its world premiere run, continues through January 27, 2019, at The Shelton Theatre in San Francisco.
Stanford would like to do more with it, adding more music, including more ragtime and some blues tunes, and also “would love to turn it into a full stage musical with original music included.”
Stanford is a very talented actor, singer, dancer, and choreographer, who has been a part of many excellent shows in the Bay Area. He has the chops to make this into a full show.