Pouring through sheet music in the archives at New York's Lincoln Center, Chris Cherry went to extraordinary lengths to recreate 1937 and 1938 via film and Broadway music for his upcoming cabaret productions celebrating Greenbelt's 75th Anniversary year.
"I wanted those songs," Cherry said of his quest to the Big Apple.
New York was not the last stop on Cherry's six-month research tour, he also scoured a year's worth of the Maryland town's first newspapers, the Greenbelt Cooperator, now titled the Greenbelt News Review.
The results of his digging, determination and direction—"Treasure Hunt Cabaret"—will premiere in Greenbelt for two Sundays, Sept. 23 and Sept. 30, in the Greenbelt Community Center gym from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., with refreshments afterward.
The Greenbelt Recreation Center invites Greenbelters and friends to attend free.
"This is the music that the first Greenbelters listened to and danced to," Cherry said.
Familiar hits like "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "My Funny Valentine," and other classics by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, will fill the gym—and compliments of Cherry's research excavations, audiences also will hear music that is now out of print.
Cherry said while searching Lincoln Center for the title song to "Little Miss Broadway," the Greenbelt movie theatre's opening film, he came across another gem—a rollicking number titled "F.D.R. Jones" that's about a family who names its baby after President Roosevelt.
In October of 1937, families started moving into Greenbelt, one of three "greenbelt" towns created under the resettlement administration established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was president, a detail Cherry, Performing Arts Program Coordinator for the Greenbelt Community Center, does not neglect.
In song and film, Roosevelt will make his way onto the cabarets' center stage. One movie excerpt shows how Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were affectionately spoofed in period musicals, Cherry said. They reflect on Franklin's disability being unknown to the general public, portrayinng him as not only able to walk—but as a proficient tap dancer, according to Cherry.
He laughed as he talked about a film clip that shows James Cagney playing George M. Cohan playing FDR. Cherry explained that the legendary Cohan came out of retirement to play Roosevelt in the 1937 Broadway play "I'd Rather Be Right," and later Cagney played Cohan doing so in the film, "Yankee Doodle Dandy".
The first Sunday cabaret focuses on Broadway songs from the 1937-1938 season, while the final Sunday showcases movie songs and includes films that played at the Greenbelt movie theatre. Cherry will sprinkle both with background commentary and tidbits on the development of popular song during the period.
Just days before his 75th Anniversary debut, Cherry stood outside the Greenbelt Co-op Supermarket, posting fliers. He wore a perpetual smile and became animated as he talked about the culmination of his research.
"It's been a blast to put together," Cherry said. "Greenbelt had the good fortune to be built in one of the best years for American pop songs."
The performances will feature Cherry's spouse, pianist Stefan Brodd—along with classically trained singers and Greenbelt residents Ole and Ingrid Hass. Teenagers from Greenbelt's Camp Encore will also bring period music to life, with singers Kristen Beauchamp, Carlos Castillo, James Fahey, Sam Goldstein, Isobel Springer and Megan Winner.
Cabaret-goers should be prepared to do more than listen. The Hass' performances will include romantic ballads and singalongs from Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," a film which debuted in Greenbelt's first year. Audience members will be invited to pitch in on "Heigh-Ho" and "Whistle While You Work."
Closing out the Treasure Hunt Cabaret is "Our Love Is Here to Stay," the last song ever written by George Gershwin.