Local musicians team up for Cole Porter revue
Updated 11:16 am, Monday, February 28, 2011
Michele Grace has been singing all her life. Chris Coogan is a jazz pianist and composer who seems to have been born at the piano. The two are now hard at work on their latest collaboration, a musical revue titled "A Day ... A Night ... and Cole Porter," that will open in Old Greenwich on March 11.
Grace was born into a family of musicians and grew up in her parents' music stores, Fraioli Music, in Greenwich and Port Chester, N.Y. Her dad was a jazz pianist, her mother a singer. It is no wonder that Grace was singing tunes by the likes of Gershwin, Berlin -- and Cole Porter -- by the time she was 12. With her parents' encouragement, she learned early on to transpose songs at will and to seek her own signature jazz stylings. Both are talents that have come in handy in her professional singing career and in working with the students who hone their vocal and performance skills in her classes.
Grace studied acting with Uta Hagen at New York's prestigious H.B. Studios, where she also taught for a number of years before embarking on her own theatrical career. Highlights of that career include the role of Peter in the musical "Peter Pan" at the Arvada Center for the Arts in Colorado and the play "Fifth of July" with TV star Tim Daly at Providence's Trinity Rep. Grace has sung at Manhattan's Carlyle and Le Cirque, among other well-known venues. Local audiences know her as a teacher and theatrical director and as the singer for the 17-piece big band the Fairfield Counts.
Coogan, too, has enjoyed a varied and successful career. He has played for such notables as Ronnie Spector, James Naughton, Phoebe Snow, Jose Feliciano, Bette Midler, Donna Summer and Kristen Chenoweth and done jazz arrangements for Teo Maceo, producer for the late Miles Davis. He appeared on television's Celebrity Jeopardy and the Arsenio Hall Show and performed at Manhattan's Blue Note and the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Coogan, director of the Weston-based Good News Gospel Choir, has also has written and performed original Gospel music for PBS.
Right now, the two multitalented musicians are in rehearsal for "A Day ... A Night ... and Cole Porter," for which Grace is director and Coogan music director. This is the duo's third outing for the 60-year-old CT Playmakers. In 2008, they partnered on "Always, The Music of Irving Berlin." They next worked their magic on "Gershwin! Our Love is Here to Stay," which featured Coogan as George Gershwin and played to SRO crowds in March 2010.
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The Cole Porter revue is, in many ways, the team's most ambitious undertaking yet. Asked what makes it different from other Cole Porter revues, Grace explains that this show has a theme that weaves together some 30 memorable Cole Porter songs. Set in Manhattan on July 11, 1945, the show invites audiences to experience all of the highs and lows, excitement and variety of a 24-hour period in New York City just prior to the end of World War II.
As he did in the previous shows, Coogan will take his place at the piano, this time accompanied by a horn player, bass player and drummer -- all of whom take part in the show as actors and singers, as well as musicians. Coogan characterizes his band as "professional jazz guys," who will bring a unique sensibility to Porter's music, allowing people to hear many of the songs in new ways.
But that is only one unique aspect of the show.
"Michele's genius is that she has an overall vision and finds a dramatic motivation to each number so that the show tells a story," Coogan said. "It's not just a series of disparate segments, but something that flows and will carry the audience along with it."
Grace, laughing about how ideas most often come to her at four in the morning, promises that the show will bring Porter's music alive in new and exciting ways.
"The real star here is the genius of Cole Porter," she said. "Our objective is to embrace his music and share it with all the love we have to give. That's exactly what this extraordinary cast does."
"A Day... A Night ... and Cole Porter" features 34 performers from across Fairfield and Westchester counties. The revue is produced by Peggi de la Cruz for CT Playmakers. Show dates are March 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25 and 26. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8pm, Sunday shows at 2 p.m. There are two shows on March 26.
Performances take place at the First Congregational Church, 108 Sound Beach Ave., Old Greenwich.
Tickets are $20 and can be reserved at 203-977-8627 or e-mail email@example.com.