Get Happy! Judy Garland 1944-'54: Joan Ellison and Mark Flanders
CLEVELAND — Singer Joan Ellison, called a “rare combination of artist, archivist, and arranger” by Michael Feinstein, will perform the premiere of her new cabaret show, Get Happy! Judy Garland 1944-’54, at The Bop Stop on April 1, 2016 at 8:00 p.m., then bring it to Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City on June 3, 2016, which will also be Joan’s NYC solo debut. Pianist Jason Aquila collaborates and Mark Flanders directs and co-writes. The show features Joan’s authentic musical arrangements based on Judy’s film, radio, and concert performances, and shines a spotlight on a period of transitions in her life, from top MGM box-office star, to concert artist with a record-shattering Palace Theatre run, to her film comeback with A Star Is Born.
Joan has made a specialty of Judy Garland’s songbook since her 2009 cabaret show, A Date With Judy! Songs of Young Judy Garland, and debut CD release of the same title in 2010. She recently played the role of “Judy Garland” in the first professional production of The Boy From Oz (in Naples, FL) since the original Broadway run in 2003, and although she will not actually play Judy in Get Happy!, she’ll bring to it the intensive study that went into preparing for the role. The new cabaret show spans “The Boy Next Door” in 1944 to “The Man That Got Away” in 1954, including “The Trolley Song,” “I Love a Piano,” “If You Feel Like Singing, Sing,” “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby,” “Last Night When We Were Young,” and “Over the Rainbow.” A haunting song that was written for Garland by Ira Gershwin and Harry Warren but never recorded, “There Is No Music,” will also get a re-imagining.
Joan Ellison has been praised for her "vocal prowess....[and] organic grasp of the classic songs" by Michael Feinstein, and “possess[ing] a crystalline voice that never stops” (Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer). She has been performing Judy Garland tunes with symphony orchestras and in theaters for several years, but the 2016 TheatreZone (Naples, Florida) production of The Boy From Oz marked the first time she had ever actually played Judy. In June 2016, she will make her NYC cabaret debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below in Get Happy! Judy Garland 1944-’54; other upcoming highlights include a Sinatra & Garland Extravaganza with the Bemus Bay Pops Orchestra (NY), a full-length Garland concert with the Ohio Valley Symphony, and a big band holiday concert with the Canton Symphony. She made her Cleveland Pops Orchestra debut at Severance Hall in 2005 and has since sung more than 30 concerts with the Pops, Erie Philharmonic, Wheaton and Lakeside Symphonies, and others in repertoire ranging from The King & I to Wicked. Her critically-acclaimed album, “Retrophonic Gershwin” (2015), mixed by Grammy-winning engineer Robert Friedrich, is available on iTunes. In addition to touring with the retro-radio-style shows Love Finds Judy Garland and Gershwin On the Air, regional theatre credits include Julie in Carousel, Nellie in South Pacific, Lizzie in 110 in the Shade, Eliza in My Fair Lady (in-concert), and Claudia in Nine. An Oberlin Conservatory graduate, she teaches popular voice at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the CWRU/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program. www.joanellison.com
Pianist Jason Aquila holds a Master of Music degree in Collaborative Piano and Chamber Music from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He was recently appointed Opera Coach at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, where he also teaches, coaches chamber music, and is on the accompanying staff. He recently served as collaborative keyboardist for the Baroque Performance Institute at Oberlin Conservatory, and was the assistant music director for Baldwin Wallace's production of La Boheme with conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos. For ten years he was Coordinator of Accompanying at Western Illinois University and has also presented concerts throughout the midwest region and in Florida.
Mark Flanders’ performance as a 1940s radio announcer has been described thus: “The ghost of Fred Astaire happens to be present in the vocal grace and friendly appeal that Flanders applies to his buoyant responsibilities” (The Plain Dealer).
He graduated with a degree in theatre from Miami University and was getting a Master's degree in dance at George Washington University when he saw a Fred Astaire film festival at the Kennedy Center. This inspired him to scour London and New York City for what remained of the previous era of tap dance. This came full circle when he tap-danced in a production of The Boys From Syracuse under choreographer Donald Saddler at the Ohio Theater in Cleveland, Ohio — the same stage on which Fred and Adele Astaire performed Lady, Be Good! in 1925. In the audience was the original Boys From Syracuse director, George Abbott, a centenarian who had seen the original Lady be Good! on Broadway. Mark also played numerous roles in musical theatre: Frederick Egerman in A Little Night Music, Juan Peron in Evita, Joey in Pal Joey, Mayer Rothschild in The Rothschilds, Dr. Carrasco in Man of La Mancha, Antipholus in The Boys From Syracuse, Young Ben in Follies, and his most favorite, Tulsa in Gypsy with choreographer Janet Watson and director Fran Soeder.
He had a parallel life and fascination with Shakespeare with Great Lakes Theatre Festival and with Shakespeare & Company in Washington D.C., playing Biron in Love's Labors Lost, Feste in Twelfth Night, Touchstone in As You Like It, and Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet. Then in a production of Grand Hotel he played the roll of broken WWI vet, Dr. Von Otternschlag and met the conductor, a recent Oberlin Conservatory grad named Joan Ellison. He pitched her the idea of teaming up to present songs from the Golden Age of American Popular Song in historically accurate styles, put her in a pair of deluxe tap shoes, popped Easter Parade in the VHS machine and the result, after many years, is Love Finds Judy Garland and Gershwin On the Air. It's been a lovely journey.