Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ira Gershwin Facts: Our Love Is Here To Stay

Ira Gershwin was simply one of the best lyricists that has ever written for the stage.  His words… urbane, his rhymes… clever, and he literally created new ways to use language in song.  His legacy lives on in the expressions he chose to set to music.

In his lifetime, those words brought him many honors, including the highest of American literary awards: The Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Ira was the first lyricist deemed worthy enough to win the honor along with his “book” cohorts George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind for the musical Of Thee I Sing. 
Unfortunately, the Tony Awards didn’t really come about until after Ira left New York for California.  However, he was also nominated for three Oscars for his work in Hollywood.  Interestingly, each of Ira’s nominations was crafted from songs written by different composers: “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (music by George Gershwin, 1937), “Long Ago and Far Away” (music by Jerome Kern, 1944), and “The Man that Got Away” (music by Harold Arlen, 1954).
Also in LA, George and Ira re-wrote a version of “Strike Up the Band” for UCLA in 1936.  As a Bruin myself, I would like to humbly thank the Gershwins!  I would also like to chide UCLA for no longer using the song.  However, in appreciation UCLA created the George and Ira Gershwin Lifetime Musical Achievement Award.  Past winners have included Angela Lansbury, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Burt Bacharach, and Julie Andrews.

In 1992, Ira would contribute lyrics to a Tony Award-winning show with Crazy For You, a major reworking of Girl Crazy.
In 1973, the Post Office issued an 8-cent postage stamp to honor the Gershwins in the American Art series.

In 1985, they were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal “to honor their contribution to the American Spirit.”
In 1998, the Pultizer committee finally rectified the error they had made to George with a posthumous special Pulitzer Prize to them both, awarded on the centennial of his brother's birth. 
The Library of Congress has named its Prize for Popular Song after the brothers; the award began in 2007. 
I could go on, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say our fascination with Ira Gershwin, and his brother, will live on.  They can’t take that away from me… or you.  Come celebrate Ira’s legacy with us at Nice Work If You Can Get It: An Ira Gershwin Salon, at the Alcazar Theater, 7PM tonight.  For tickets click here, or call (415) 255-8207. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ira Gershwin Facts: Back Home

Ira was the oldest of Morris and Rose’s four children; he was two when George was born.  Arthur was their third child, and Frances was 10 years Ira’s junior.  In fact she was exactly 10 years younger -- they shared the same birthday.
Ira has been called the “quiet Gershwin,” but this was never because he was pushed to the side. He preferred to eschew the limelight, choosing instead to observe the world around him.
 All the better to comment on life, love, and the world through his lyrics, wouldn’t you say?
Growing up he helped with the family and the family businesses, at one point working as a cashier at his father's Turkish Baths.  When he and George became creative partners, Ira took control of the brothers’ financial interests.  In fact he has been quoted as saying, "I always felt that if George hadn't been my brother and pushed me, I'd have been contented to be a bookkeeper."
On September 14, 1926, Ira Gershwin and Leonore Strunsky were married. As Ira and George became successful, they moved their entire family to a beautiful five-story house at 316 West 103rd Street in Manhattan. Ira and Leonore took the fourth floor, but the house was always bustling with visitors.
Two years later, George and Ira would move to adjoining penthouses on Riverside and 75th (where they auditioned Ethel Merman).
Ira even vacationed with his family.  The same year of the move to Riverside, Ira, his wife, George and Frances went on holiday to Europe, traveling through London, Vienna, and Paris.  The result?  George Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

Ira’s beloved wife, Leonore, passed away in 1991.  We are honored her nephew, Michael Strunsky and his wife, Jean, are joining us for Nice Work If You Can Get It: An Ira Gershwin Salon.  The show starts at 7pm, Thursday, January 28, 2010 at the Alcazar Theater.  If you’d like to join us, please click here or call (415) 255-8297.
(photos from top to bottom: Arthur Gershwin; Leopold Godowsky and Frances Gershwin Godowsky; George and Rose Gershwin; Jean Strunsky, Artistic Director Greg MacKellan, Michael Strunsky, Donna McKecknie)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ira Gershwin Facts: A Star Is Born

The Gershwins knew talent.
In 1916, George had met a young man looking for a song for his and his sister’s vaudeville act.  Though they did not work together at the time, they vowed they would.  In 1922, they got their first chance with For Goodness Sake.  George and Ira aided the production with two songs, and Ira helped with lyrics to a third.  The show starred the young man and his sister, Fred and Adele Astaire.  The Astaires would later star in the Gershwin’s first Broadway show Lady, Be Good! and their smash Funny Face.
In 1926, they gave Gertrude Lawrence her first Broadway book musical, with Oh, Kay!

Then in 1930, a young Ethel Merman was whisked away to the Gershwin’s apartment at 33 Riverside Drive to audition for their newest musical, Girl Crazy.  After her audition, George offered to play a few songs from Girl Crazy.
Gershwin mistook Merman’s quiet contemplation of the songs as disapproval.  After playing “I Got Rhythm,” George replied to Merman’s silence, "If there’s anything about these songs you don’t like, Miss Merman, I’ll be happy to make changes."

The fog lifted, the magnitude of Merman’s situation hit her, and she replied, "They will do very nicely, Mr. Gershwin." Though Merman’s response was made out of frightened intimidation given her current situation, her almost blasé response helped fashion her reputation as the sassy belter for which we would come to know her.

These were stars that both George and Ira helped usher into the hearts of the American public. However, much later in life Ira would become a mentor to another young singer.  In July 1977, at age 20, Michael Feinstein became Ira’s assistant for six years.  Since that mentorship, Feinstein has become one of the greatest interpreters of the Gershwin’s work and a staunch advocate to preserving the Great American Songbook.

Ira Gershwin met and made his share of stars.  To see our biggest star of the year, Tony Award Winner and Broadway legend Donna McKechnie, come to 42nd Street Moon’s Nice Work If You Can Get It: An Ira Gershwin Salon, this Thursday, January 28, 2010 at the Alcazar Theater.  For tickets click here, or call (415) 255-8207.

(photo: Fred Astaire, George, Ira)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ira Gershwin Facts: What's In a Name?

On December 6, 1896, a young immigrant couple, Moishe Gershovitz and Rosa Bruskin, gave birth to their first baby.  Moishe had already changed the family’s surname to Gershvin and taken the name Morris before little Israel (Ira) was born.

Names, it would seem, became very important to Ira Gershwin.  To begin, it wasn’t until he applied for a passport in 1928 (age 32) that he found out his name was Israel!  Growing up, he had always gone by the nickname “Izzy” and had assumed it was short for Isidore. 

[As an aside, Isidore was the birth name of another famous lyricist and a very close friend of Ira’s from high school.  To find out who… come to Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Alcazar!]

Ira also used names to eschew the limelight, preferring to use pseudonyms on his earlier works.  One “a.k.a” he took was Bruskin Gershwin, his mother’s maiden name, to publish the short story “The Shrine”.  His most famous nom de plume was probably as lyricist Arthur Francis, which he used off and on until 1922.  Arthur was his younger brother’s name and Frances was his baby sister.

Yes, names it seems were important to Ira Gershwin and given his choice of aliases it would seem his family was important to him, too. 

More entertaining facts about Ira Gershwin to come keep an eye on the blog. For even more fun and a chance to hear his amazing lyrics live, come join us at
42nd Street
Moon’s Ira Gershwin Salon, narrated by Tony Award Winner
Donna McKechnie, Thursday, January 28th at the Alcazar Theatre.  The show starts at 7PM.  For tickets, click here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Taking Our Best Shot by Guest Blogger Greg MacKellan

[ed. I want to thank guest blogger Artistic Director Greg MacKellan for this contribution. I’ll be back to blogging starting on Monday with a special series on Ira Gershwin.Look for a new blog every day next week leading up to our most fantastic Ira Gershwin Salon Evening.]


Although rehearsals are still several weeks away, on January 8th, some of the performers from our spring shows got together at MoonSpace to shoot publicity photos.  This was the first time the actors from Lady, Be Good! and Very Warm for May got together as a group.

The weather outside was frightful, but in the studio it was definitely delightful. Photo shoots always have a bit of a “party” atmosphere as the actors take their places in front of the camera and start “trying on” the characters they will be playing weeks (or months) later. Enjoy this first peek at the shows that will have San Francisco humming Gershwin and Kern this spring! 

Costumer Louise Jarmilowicz, production manager Erin Maxwell, and of course photographer David Allen add to the mix of personalities hard at work quickly capturing a bit of the spirit of the shows in sessions that last about an hour for each show.

Lady, Be Good! was up first – a jazz-age show that originally starred Fred and Adele Astaire.  Our own Fred and Adele, Ian Simpson and Rena Wilson, danced their way through a couple of improvised routines, while Alexis Papedo, Andrew Boyer, Lisa Hensley, and Ben Knoll also made vivid appearances before David’s camera.

Then it was Very Warm for May – a “summer stock” themed show.   This shoot was a little crazy, because the show focuses on a rather eccentric director (played by Bill Fahrner) who casts his actors in rather avant garde roles – a tree, a musket, a babbling brook.  Sepideh Moafi, Luke Chapman, Megan Hopp, Zak Franczak, and Sarah Kathleen Farrell had a lot of fun making up crazy routines for Bill to “direct.”   (Anil Margsahayam – back with us for the first time since One Touch of Venus in 2007 – plays a New York director who comes in to give some Broadway sparkle to the show.)

-       Greg MacKellan