The Union Recorder

February 25, 2014

CURTAIN CALL: Jazz, musical theater coming this week

Tom Toney
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — There’s some jazz and musical theater to report on this week, so let’s get right to it.

Tonight the Georgia College Music Department will present Swing Division, a jazz sextet featuring Chris Enghauser on bass.

Swing Division is based in Athens, and is a high-energy jazz combo dedicated to performing the music of the hard bop combos that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these artists included Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderly and Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers, among others.

It was a great era of musical creativity. The groups often consisted of several horns and a rhythm section, sharing some of the same features as a more traditional “big band.”  But these combos consisted of fewer players, allowing more creativity and individual freedom.

Swing Division is made up of some of the finest jazz musicians and educators in the Athens and Atlanta area and has performed at many jazz festivals throughout Georgia.

Chris Enghauser currently teaches double bass at Georgia College. His performing experience includes freelancing in a range of styles, including jazz, rock, bluegrass, folk and world music. He is also a member of the Macon Symphony, Albany Symphony and Toccoa Symphony.

Also part of Swing Division is Chris Probst on trumpet. You may recall that Chris has also taught at GC and did a great job as interim band director a couple of years back, in between the departure of Todd Shiver and the arrival of Cliff Towner.

Looking at the advance program for this show really got this columnist salivating (I know — what a disgusting image!). Some of the tasty treats on tap include “Mox Nix” by Art Farmer, “The Big Push” by Wayne Shorter, and a true classic of the style, “In Walked Bud” by Thelonious Monk. A couple of original tunes from members of Swing Division are also on the schedule.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in Max Noah Recital Hall. General admission is $10, while $7 will work for senior citizens and GC faculty and staff.

This is a great opportunity to hear some incredible live music from one of the most important eras of jazz. I say check it out.

Meanwhile, over in Russell Auditorium, the faculty and students in the GC Theatre Department have been putting in a lot of time preparing for “Ronald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.” And that effort is about to come to fruition.

“Willy Wonka” opens Wednesday and runs through Sunday. All performances start at 8 p.m. with the exception of that entity known as the Sunday matinee, where the chocolate factory will open its doors at 2 p.m.

Directed by the always awesome Amy Pinney, “Ronald Dahl’s Willy Wonka” follows enigmatic candy manufacturer Willy Wonka as he stages a contest by hiding five golden tickets in five of his candy bars. Whoever comes up with these tickets will get a free tour of the Wonka factory as well as a lifetime supply of candy.

Four of the winning children are insufferable brats but the fifth is a likeable young lad named Charlie Bucket. While touring the factory, the children must learn to follow Mr. Wonka’s rules ... or suffer the consequences.

This play features one of the larger casts that I have seen in some time on the Russell stage. And as someone who has been involved in several productions in that imposing edifice, I know how “tricky” it can be trying to maneuver dozens of people around in the limited wing space and back stage area you have available.

“Willy Wonka” is a musical (original score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley), which means you need some musicians. Luckily, that’s not a problem in this case.

Wonderful Wendy Mullen is the music director for this production, and I know she has been just as busy as Amy in pulling this together. She is being helped out by Lev Ryabinin on keyboard, Patti Tolbert on percussion and Brad Weaver on bass guitar.

A musical also needs a choreographer. Natalie King, one of the newest additions to the GC Theatre Department, specifically coming on board as a dance instructor within the GC dance minor program, is charged with that considerable responsibility and is reportedly doing a fantastic job.

Many people are familiar with the tale of Willy Wonka from the 1971 movie that starred Gene Wilder as Mr. Wonka and Jack Albertson as Charlie’s Grandpa. But an awful lot of great music never made it into that movie version (not unusual when transforming a theatrical production into a motion picture). Some did and became quite well known, including “Pure Imagination,” “Cheer Up Charlie,” “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” and of course, “Oompa-Loompa.”

The surprise hit from the movie was “The Candyman.” A version released by Sammy Davis Jr. in early 1972 was a huge hit, holding the No. 1 position on the Billboard charts for three weeks.

But as I’ve said before, a play should be seen as a play. And this is a golden opportunity to see the play about the golden tickets.

Though many in the considerable cast are theater majors, there are also students whose major areas of study include history, mass communications, music education, Spanish, marketing and exercise science. Hey, one of the Oompas is played by a student who is listed as a theater AND criminal justice major.

Doesn’t take too much imagination to see how a theatrical background could be useful in a courtroom setting.

Ticket prices for “Ronald Dahl’s Willy Wonka” range from $7 to $16. You can check out for more information on prices and to reserve your seat in advance.

Finally, let me offer my personal apology to all the good people who had reserved tickets for the murder mystery dinner that was scheduled this past weekend by the Milledgeville Players. Circumstances beyond our control forced the last minute cancellation of that event, which we will hopefully be able to re-schedule in the near future.

So take advantage of some live entertainment this week by listening to some jazz and immersing yourself in a Chocolate River. Both are sure to be a lot of fun.

Until next time - catch you on the flip side.