Award-winning triple threat Elijah Rock is a native of South Euclid, attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, and spent time as a Singing Angel. Now he’s returning to Cleveland to headline Grand Illusion: A Magical Odyssey, Cleveland Play House’s annual benefit on June 3. He’s also just released a new album called Gershwin For My Soul. Elijah visited WCLV to chat with Jacqueline Gerber. [Listen]
(Los Angeles, CA – March 31, 2017) Long-dedicated to upholding and aligning himself with the first class carriage and aesthetic of timeless entertainment, singer/actor/dancer Elijah Rock is carrying the blazing torch for the legacy of George & Ira Gershwin, bringing a contemporary and decidedly African American twist to their timeless music with several forward thinking projects.
Gershwin For My Soul (release date April 18) is the Cleveland-born baritone’s brand new critically acclaimed album. Jazziz Magazinemarvels, “Rock brings both chops and emotion to his masculine yet sensitive delivery.” Rock traveled to Thailand to star and make his directorial debut in a gorgeous music video for the lead single/title track “Gershwin For My Soul” that is bringing a sensual touch of class to video outlets around the globe. Rock and his lovely co-star cavort in the sun-dappled climes and evening breezes of Phuket interspersed with Elijah crooning about the timeless grace of Gershwin and sumptuous amour – thus Elijah’s new moniker, “Mr. Romance.”
It is but one of 12 masterful performances on the album, produced and arranged by Grammy-winning keyboardist/musical director Kevin Toney to bring the music of Gershwin into its rightful contemporary space, ably aided by bassist John B. Williams and drummer Greg Paul, plus guitarists Jacques Lesure and John Storie. The arrangements range from hiply syncopated updates on “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Our Love is Here to Stay” to Rock milking the rarely heard extended introduction to “How Long Has This Been Going On?” (before it falls like feathers into a soft brushed blues) and a version of the delightful “S’Wonderful” in a tender take that recalls the spirit of recently departed Al Jarreau. The album represents a full circle journey for Rock who started singing at 8 in church followed by his first Gershwin songs from “Porgy & Bess” at 16 at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
That connection is key to Elijah Rock reviving the music of “Porgy & Bess” in a revolutionary new presentation that takes what was originally written as an Opera then turned into a Broadway musical into a pure jazz adaptation. Utilizing the story as retold in the most recent Broadway book written by Suzan Lori Parks, with Kevin Toney’s sparkling arrangements for 5-piece band and Rock in the role of “Porgy” with a scaled down cast, this “Porgy & Bess” premiered at the 300-seat Ensemble Theater in Santa Barbara, California to raves from audiences bowled over by the intimacy, the freshness and Rock’s mastery.
NAACP Theater Award-winning triple threat Rock sailed into these latest endeavors on the wings of glowing acclaim for his stage performances of the characters ‘Crooner’ in “Words by Ira Gershwin” and of the legendary Cotton Club star Cab Calloway in the musical revue “I Only Have Eyes For You” for which he was nominated for a 2016 Ovation Theatre Award. The Glendale News raved, “Baritone Rock, with charm to spare, shifts smoothly from crisp jazz phrasings to the operatic…” The Hollywood Progressive proclaimed, “The youthful Rock, who appears in Showtime’s TV series ‘Masters of Sex,’ is establishing himself as one of his generation’s foremost interpreters and performers of The Great American Songbook.”
Up next for Elijah Rock is a residency in Las Vegas where a top team of producers are developing a vehicle around the star entitled “A Fine Romance” featuring The Songs of George & Ira Gershwin and The Great American Songbook. In this intimate show, Rock will flesh out the “Mr. Romance” in a theatrical environment that promises to bring back to Vegas the taste and sophistication of yesteryears.
“Before this experience, I hadn’t really embraced the balladeer aspect of my gift,” Rock muses. “It was about me being vulnerable enough to know I could do it. It’s been an interesting transformation for me.” Ultimately, Elijah Rock will be wowing longtime lovers of Gershwin music as he cultivates a younger audience with his all-around showmanship, singing and even his paddle-n-roll style of tap dancing – lost arts all that have found in Rock a tireless cultural savior.
“I believe there is a cross demographic that this music will serve,” Rock concludes. “I am grateful to Tony Bennett, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Gregory Porter, Diana Krall and Michael Bublé for their success in keeping the music relevant to today’s pop world. I approach singing from a traditional perspective with a fresh twist. Gershwin For My Soul not only represents America’s classical music, it will give me a platform to address a lot of other things about the culture and where we all stand today.”
Elijah Rock featured Review in 2017 Winter Edition of
‘Porgy and Bess’ Revived at ETC
*On Friday, May 13, Corky Hale presents I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU – The Life and Lyrics of Al Dubin, at the Montalban Theatre in Hollywood. This new musical features lyrics by Al Dubin, music mostly by Harry Warren, book by Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, and musical direction by Gerald Sternbach. The production is directed and choreographed by Kay Cole.
The Golden Age of Hollywood returns to the stage in the all-singing, all-dancing story of legendary 1930s lyricist Al Dubin, who along with composer Harry Warren and visionary film director Busby Berkeley and took movie musicals to new heights during the darkest days of the Great Depression.
Elijah Rock, a great fan of what he calls, The Great American Songbook, gets to perform the music of one of his music legends, Cab Calloway, in a featured segment of the production.
He spoke with EURThisNthat editor, DeBorah B. Pryor, about the experience.
“I have an interesting relationship to Cab Calloway. I have always included him in my act. In my musical performances with my band…I’ve had different size bands and orchestras and I always incorporated ‘Minnie the Moocher’ in my set. I actually did a recording of Minnie the Moocher with one of my previous bands and it became one of my signature songs when I would do a show.”
Rock says a friend of his called him to let him know about the show. “The next day I get a call from Michael Donovan, who casts a lot of the big shows in town, and he says ‘They want to see you for Cab.’”
At the audition, Rock says he didn’t sing his signature Cab Calloway song. Instead he sang other great tunes from the legend. “And of course, they booked me right away!” he says, rather nonchalantly on our telephone interview.
The entertainer recalls a special surprise from a friend who took him out to lunch on one of his visits to see his sister back home. At lunch the friend said, “Hey, I’ve got a surprise for you.” “He took me to the Cab Calloway Memorial, which is on the plot where his house used to be.”
The memorial is located in Rochester, New York.
“I was right there in his neighborhood. So you talk about God, his hand and full circle. It was definitely waiting to happen.”
See the photo of Elijah Rock at the Cab Calloway Memorial site directly below.
“You know I’ve always been singing the great American songbook,” says Rock. “All the way to the point that I have a big record coming out this Fall called “Gershwin for My Soul.” The artist says they will either go independent or with a major jazz label, and says they are looking at their options. “It was produced by Kevin Toney, who was one of the original members of The Blackbyrds. John B. Williams on bass. Just legends on the record.”
Rock describes the writing and acting in ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ as fantastic.
“The writers and actors are top notch. It’s definitely Broadway bound in terms of the level of script and actors,” says the Cleveland-born entertainer who travels back and forth, but currently makes L.A. his home.
With regard to his role in the production, Rock, who is one of three artists of color in the production says, “They gave me the show-stopper. The other featured artists, there’s a Carmen Miranda, an Al Jolson. Rock will be singing Luu’s Back in Town while wearing the classic white tux and tails that we remember the legendary Cab Calloway always wore. Rock says he also appears in several smaller parts throughout Act I.
Rock says he is enjoying the experience immensely and especially noteworthy is working with Corky Hale and the same team who launched the popular production, “Smokey Joe’s Café,” which also debuted at the Ricardo Montalban Theater, where this production takes place.
And in reference to the production itself, producer Corky Hale said, “Few Hollywood songwriters have hit the same heights as Al Dubin. The entire country was singing his songs, and when we think of the hits of his era, his are the lyrics that we hear. The man himself however lived a drama that was larger than the plot of any film that included his songs – and it is a fascinating and captivating story about a guy who had everything that life has to offer – and who couldn’t resist his addictions.”
Gershwin For My Soul, Rock’s upcoming record, will include jazz, disco, and pop. “It means a lot to me because I stand on the shoulders of the great crooners that have come before me like Al Hibbler, Arthur Prysock, Johnny Hardman, Nat Cole, Sammy [Davis, Jr.], all these guys and there’s really not one Black male in this category on the national scene so there’s a need.
I’m so happy with what Cécile McLorin Salvant’s doing. She won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal, and Gregory Porter. But African American males singing the great American songbook, of which we have contributed so much, I’m the only one at this level,” says Rock.
“There’s a lot of meaning behind me coming out and doing this record,” he adds. “Doing the show, Words By Ira Gershwin last year and really leading with the Gershwin album. It’s classic and traditional, but we put our little spin on it,” he chuckles.
When the entertainer was asked how Black audiences have responded to this type of music and production in the past he says.
“Its all about access and what kids are exposed to. When they’re exposed to it, they love it! When we do matinee shows for inner city kids, for example, we did the Roland Hayes show. You had so many kids that would not have been exposed to this.”
Previews for “I Only Have Eyes For You” began on Tuesday, May 10. The show officially opens on Friday, May 13, and is performed through Sunday, June 12 at the Montalban Theater, 1615 Vine St. in Hollywood. Performances will be on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.
Tickets are available now at www.flavorus.com or by calling 1-323-461-6999.
The Golden Age of Hollywood returns to the stage in the all-singing, all-dancing story of legendary 1930s lyricist Al Dubin, who along with composer Harry Warren and visionary film director Busby Berkeley took movie musicals to new heights during the darkest days of the Great Depression.
Jared Gertner (Olivier nominated as Elder Cunningham in The Book Of Mormon) stars as Al Dubin. Possessed of enormous talent and equally outsized vices, Dubin, primarily with Warren, still managed to write such classics as “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” “42nd Street,” “We’re in the Money,” “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,” “September in the Rain,” “South American Way,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “Lullaby of Broadway” which won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1935.
Producer Corky Hale said, “Few Hollywood songwriters have hit the same heights as Al Dubin. The entire country was singing his songs, and when we think of the hits of his era, his are the lyrics that we hear. The man himself however lived a drama that was larger than the plot of any film that included his songs – and it is a fascinating and captivating story about a guy who had everything that life has to offer – and who couldn’t resist his addictions.”
Hale, who has had a lifelong fascination with Dubin, knows about the American popular song. She is a pianist, vocalist and harpist, who began with the bands of Harry James, Ray Anthony, and Jerry Gray, and went on to perform with Billie Holiday, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Judy Collins, Liberace, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand (soloing at the famous Happening in Central Park), George Michael, and Björk. She is married to Mike Stoller of the legendary songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller.
I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU begins previews Tuesday, May 10, opens on Friday, May 13, and is performed through Sunday, June 12 at the Montalban Theatre, 1615 Vine St. in Hollywood. Following previews, performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm; Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are available now at www.flavorus.com or by calling 1-323-461-6999.
Dubin, who also wrote songs with Jimmy McHugh, Duke Ellington, and Victor Herbert, worked with some of Hollywood’s most unforgettable musical stars, including Cab Calloway, Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, and Carmen Miranda, who are all brought back to singing and dancing life in I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU.
With book by Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, the award winning screenwriters of “Peggy Sue Got Married”, I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU is a witty, wildly entertaining and ultimately touching portrait of a man who barreled headlong through life yet was often unable to get out of his own way.
The cast of I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU will feature: Nikki Bohne as Helen Dubin, Constantine Rousouli as Harry Warren, Kayla Parker as Ruby Keeler, Justin Wilcox as Al Jolson, Renee Marino as Carmen Miranda, Elijah Rock as Cab Calloway, Valerie Perri as Minna Dubin and Robert Pieranunzi as Busby Berkeley. Featured in the ensemble (in alphabetical order) are: Julian De Guzman, Daniel May, Jeffrey Scott Parsons, Dominic Pierson, Kim Louise Taylor, Katherine Tokarz and Karl Warden, and Penny Wildman.
I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU has assembled an award-winning design team. Set Design is by John Iacovelli. Lighting Design is by Brandon Baruch. Sound Design is by Cricket S. Myers. Costume Design is by Debra McGuire. Wig, Hair and Make-up Design is by Judi Lewin. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. The Stage Manager is Art Brickman.