By Leigh Ann Dewey
The world premiere of “By George/By Jean,” the biggest show ever staged by San Diego Dance Theater, will be held Friday through Sunday at the Garfield Theater, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla.
Show times are 8 p.m. Jan. 14 and 15, and 6 p.m. Jan. 16. Doors will open one hour before performances. A buffet and cash bar will be offered, and a dinner show package is available.
Part of the San Diego Dance Theater’s annual Cabaret Dances series, “By George/By Jean” is a nostalgic evening of music, song and dance inspired by composer George Gershwin. The show will feature 12 Gershwin songs adapted by local musician and composer Steve Baker. Original choreography is by Artistic Director Jean Isaacs, who taught dance for 25 years at UCSD.
Ten dancers, singer Rachel Drexler, pianist Baker and guitarist Fred Benedetti will perform. Comedian Claude Stuart will serve as emcee, similar to actor Joel Grey’s character in the movie “Cabaret.” Isaacs said the theater will be transformed into a stylish, classy cabaret reminiscent of the Gershwin era of the 1920s.
“My inspiration for doing an all-Gershwin evening came after we premiered (Gershwin’s) “Rhapsody in Blue” last May,” said Isaacs. Performed at the Powell Theater at San Diego State University, she said the show met with such a great response from the audience that she decided to create an entire show using only Gershwin tunes.
Isaacs said she and Baker, her partner in the project, “listened to so many of Gershwin’s songs before coming up with our choices. These adaptations of Gershwin show how relevant his music is today.”
She predicts the highlight of the show will be the finale, “Stairway to Paradise,” because “it features five musicians and 10 dancers in a song (about) how one can reach heaven by dancing.”
Among its firsts, “By George/By Jean” marks the first time San Diego Dance Theater has performed at the Garfield Theater. The Cabaret Dances Series was performed during its first seven years at Copley Auditorium in the San Diego Museum of Modern Art. The space was renovated by the Old Globe Theatre, so the show was performed the following two years at Anthology and Dance in the NCT Promenade.
“After attending other shows at the Garfield,” said Isaacs, “we decided that this theater would provide a lovely setting for this year’s Cabaret Dances.” The theater, she said, “has state-of-the-art lighting, projections and sound that will showcase the talent of our dancers and the entire creative team … It is well located, large enough for this unusually sold-out event, and is well staffed by professionals who are eager to help us provide that intimate setting we need.”
Like past Cabaret Dances performances, “the goal is to provide professional dance in a less formal setting than a typical theater provides,” said Isaacs. Patrons enjoy the show in a cabaret setting with food and drinks available. “We have found that couples especially enjoy this setting because they can chat between dances, and it’s up close and personal, with seating at café tables. There are no ‘in jokes’ or study guides needed to enjoy it.”