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)

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