Upcoming ‘Echoes of the Cotton Club’ show now registered with Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival

The cast, band and dancers from the upcoming production of the “Echoes of the Cotton Club” radio show re-creation at Western Carolina University celebrate news that the show has been registered with the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

The cast, band and dancers from the upcoming production of the “Echoes of the Cotton Club” radio show re-creation at Western Carolina University celebrate news that the show has been registered with the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

The cast, band and dancers from the upcoming production of the “Echoes of the Cotton Club” radio show re-creation at Western Carolina University recently learned that the show has been registered with the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Two regional representatives of KCACTF, an organization committed to identifying and promoting quality in university productions, will attend the “Echoes of the Cotton Club” performance in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24. The representatives also will meet with the cast to provide feedback and a peer review of the production, and will prepare a written report for the students and production team.

In addition, “Echoes of the Cotton Club” will be eligible for an invitation to a regional Kennedy Center festival to be held next February and may be considered for national awards recognizing outstanding achievement in production, design, direction and performance. Shows selected from the regional festivals across the country receive an invitation to perform in KCACTF National Festival events in April 2015 in Washington, D.C.

“Echoes” is the sixth in a series of academic-based entertainment projects mounted in collaboration with four departments and three colleges at WCU under the leadership of director Steve Carlisle, retired associate dean of the Honors College; music directors Bruce Frazier, the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, and Jon Henson, music faculty member and assistant director of WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band; writer and producer Don Connelly, head of the Department of Communication; and choreographer Karyn Tomczak, director of the dance program. Each of the shows in the series hearkens back to the golden age of radio, featuring a live orchestra and sound effects, and is performed only once before a live audience.

Carlisle said registration of the production with the KCACTF represents a strong desire of the production team to provide an outstanding learning experience for the students, staff and faculty involved in the production.
“The adjudicators that will attend our performance are experienced theatre professionals who will provide extremely valuable feedback on our production to the students as well as the concept and execution of the designers. It is peer review at its best for all concerned,” said Carlisle.

Connelly said the storyline of “Echoes” is woven around the critical role that radio broadcasts originating in 1927 from the Cotton Club played in changing the musical landscape in America. “The ‘echoes’ from the Cotton Club are all of the rich musical styles and genre that originated in Harlem and are still influencing our popular culture,” said Connelly. The show is the fourth he has written for the group, and he said that it has been the most difficult because the story line spans nearly 90 years.

Frazier said “Echoes” follows significant musical developments through the decades to the present day – swing, blues, soul and R&B, Motown, funk, disco, hip-hop and modern singer-songwriters. Featured songs include hits by artists Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald, and the contemporary entertainers they inspire – such as Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Bruno Mars.

The show will feature the Catamount Singers and Electric Soul in addition to the radio cast members. Also, the production will have a special appearance by Mercedes Ellington, president of the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts in New York City and the granddaughter of music legend Duke Ellington. Mercedes Ellington was on campus in February working with students in the production and pre-recorded her part in “Echoes” that will be presented on a large screen at the back of the stage.
“Echoes” is a salute to the roots of jazz and the big band era music. “Having Mercedes Ellington on campus for our students to work with as a direct link to this era was just incredible. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Frazier.

“Echoes of the Cotton Club” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. April 24 in the Bardo Arts Center. Tickets to the show are $10 and proceeds will fund scholarships in participating academic departments. In the last five years, the group has raised nearly $25,000 for student scholarships.

Additional funding for “Echoes of the Cotton Club” is provided by the Office of the Provost, Office of Undergraduate Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine and Performing Arts, Department of Communication, School of Music, School of Stage and Screen, and the Carol Grotnes Belk Endowment. Ellington’s participation was supported in part by a grant from the Chancellor’s Visiting Scholar Fund.

For more information, contact Connelly at 828-227-3851 or dconnelly@wcu.edu. For tickets, visit the Bardo Arts Center box office in person or online at bardoartscenter.wcu.edu, or call 828-227-2479.