It seems in Tulsa, the arts and entertainment options and audiences are generally segmented and stereotyped separately: you're either a "theatre person" or into dance or a music fan. Never mind the fact that all three are generally intertwined--you're part of one faction or another and never shall the two intertwine. Now, how realistic is that?
This Saturday night, though, the three will meet as some of Tulsa's most talented and cutting edge artists in each genre join together to create a unique collaboration in Assorted Jellies and Jams: An Adult Portion.
Essentially, it's musical theatre taking its performance a step further--out of the auditorium and into the nightclub, with the Old Crow Players of the Nightingale Theater, local jazz and roots acts Shuffle Band and Three Penny Upright and Tulsa's sexiest dance troupe, Eye Candy Burlesque.
Primarily conceived by Jeff Davis of Shuffle Band, Assorted Jellies and Jams' original script was constructed by culling three original pieces from the Nightingale brain trust, written by John Cruncleton, which were used to develop the scenery and outline the evening's performance.
Davis then created a character, Ol' Tom Burrdick, as a narrator to help develop the story and tie the evening together as a narrator.
The story is least partially informed by Davis' unproduced film and soundtrack, Here Come Boogie Finger, a story set in eastern Oklahoma that revolves around the electrification of roots music. Davis summarizes the concept and story as "Muddy Waters creative electricity meets Trail of Tears."
When Davis saw Nightingale Theater's Humans last January and Dirty Thoughts last June, he saw three pieces in those shows involving turn of the century, Western themes. He's since worked with the group on Glowstick and Old Crow Confessions, but he wanted to collaborate with the group, and with Eye Candy Burlesque, in an original project.
While he's always been interested in exploring different periods in time, Davis said he's especially attracted to the early 20th century for its music and the changes occurring in America at the time, the "shift from fontierism to industrialism," he said. And, he thought Western themes would nicely meld with the style of music he wanted performed and the Eye Candy acts.
Davis also stressed that the evening is specifically adult themed and involves the whores, outlaws and Marshall that inhabit a saloon in 1902. Over the course of the performance, the script incorporates the acting of Old Crow Players, choreographed performances by the dancing girls of Eye Candy Burlesque and the music of Shuffle Band and Three Penny Upright as well as the debut of Som' Lonesome Bitches Little Big Band.
Staged within The Blank Slate instead of a conventional theater, Assorted Jellies and Jams incorporates its in kind sponsors in the staging and opens with video program (as opposed to the traditional, leaflet program normally associated with a theater production), which will begin airing approximately 20 minutes before the performance begins.
It's Show Time!
The show opens with Joseph Gomez of the Old Crow Players as an outlaw, fleeing conviction, making his last stand, in "Outlaw's Last" from Humans. Gomez stumbles in, wounded and bleeding and gun in hand, not ready to give up without a fight. The room clears from the commotion, but once the outlaw dies, Momere, emcee for the Eye Candy girls, urges everyone back into the saloon and the party commences.
The other scenes incorporated into the show are "Whore's Pleasure," also from Humans and performed by Sara Cruncleton (and from which the character of Ol' Tom Burrdick, played by Jason Watts, was taken) and "Cold-Blooded Toothpick" from Dirty Thoughts, performed by Gomez and John and Sara Cruncleton.
Each of the pieces are humorous and provocative, with just enough shock and scandal to keep your attention rapt.
Watts explained that his character, Burrdick, acts as a sort of emcee along with Momere, and there is, between the two of them, a sort of sexual tension that stems from some past the audience isn't quite cognizant of.
Watts described his character as a guy with "a perpetual hard-on," who spends most of his time with the ladies of Eye Candy, filling interludes between scenes and musical numbers with improvised dialogue with the girls and Momere. And there's an addition to the troupe with Eva Chablis, whom Tom is finding himself very attracted to.
As the evening plays out, everything is tied together by its omnipresent soundtrack--and since this is an original live production, it would be inappropriate to have anything other than a corresponding musical accompaniment.
Considering the fact that the event is part of Davis' creative vision, it should come as no surprise that Shuffle Band plays a primary role in the evening's ambiance and interludes, but he's not hogging the musical spotlight.
By inviting local roots act Three Penny Upright to join the bill, another fresh and unique voice was brought to the table. What proves to be the most intriguing from the outset, however, is the emergence of Som' Lonesome Bitches Little Big Band, an ensemble that is sure to steal the spotlight for a few scenes and promises to be a highlight of the entire evening.
As the evening in the saloon unfolds, Three Penny Upright will play a key role in the night's entertainment, interweaving the band's own original material into the evening's saloon antics. The band's blend of classic country, blues, jazz, rockabilly and bluegrass not only fits the evening's vibe but promises to impress a whole new set of fans that may not have witnessed the band previously.
Leading vocalists Amy Amatucci and Mary Perisho won't just be performing with Three Penny Upright, however. After the band finishes its portion of the show and segues to the Shuffle Band, both young ladies will reappear later in the evening as part of the aforementioned Som' Lonesome Bitches Little Big Band.
Acording to Amatucci, her band was drawn into the project by Cris Foster of Shuffle Band, who impressed with the band's take on country and roots music and thought the band would fit the bill nicely. Grateful to be considered to begin with, Amatucci said that "When we heard who all was involved, our response was 'Oh yeah, of course we want to be involved.'"
The most intriguing part of the production isn't merely the professionalism and talent of the players, but the evolution of a whole new band for this event. Already a part of the evening's entertainment, Amatucci and Perisho were then drawn into a new ensemble when given the opportunity to sing with local jazz and pop sirens Annie Ellicott and Sharla Pember (of whom the duo were already big fans) and be part of some gospel-tinged, four-part harmonies that only begin to hint at the potential behind this group of young women.
According to Amatucci, "Getting to learn some new songs written by other people was nice, but performing with the other two women was more creatively interesting for us. It's turned into a great collaboration and that's the fun of it all."
The collaboration also exists between the musical and theatrical groups and the burlesque portion of the show, all of which will be intertwined throughout the evening.
The entire thing is a sort of "grand experiment," said Watts.
"Jeff has been really ambitious. Theatre doesn't usually work well in a bar setting because it kind of requires you to pay attention, and when you're in a bar, you don't want to pay attention. You want to socialize.
"But I don't think they have to be separate things. Back in the old days we had vaudeville, where that theatrical element was in a bar setting," said Watts.
When asked whether Assorted Jellies and Jams was sort of like vaudeville, Watts said, "Vaudeville was a lot of skits, comedy and juggling--the sort of entertainment that didn't really require you to pay attention. This is more heady. It's similar to vaudeville, but with more skill."
Assorted Jellies and Jams opens at The Blank Slate, 230 E. 1st St., Sat., Sept. 22 at 9pm. Tickets are $10 in advance at The Blank Slate, Under the Mooch, The Coffee House on Cherry Street, Shades of Brown, Oz and Exit 6C or $15 at the show. Patrons must be 18 or older to be admitted.
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