Thanks to the Invisible Theatre, it won't just be rib eyes on the grill that are sizzling this summer.
For four weeks, beginning June 13, the group's Sizzling Summer Sounds series will present eight different shows featuring musical entertainment in a classy cabaret setting at the Arizona Inn.
IT developed the series years ago, but took a break for a few summers. Last year, it brought the series back with great success, so this year, it has rounded up another group of accomplished performers, including some highly regarded talent from around the country.
According to Susan Claassen, who produces the series, almost 2,000 folks enjoyed the shows last year, and more than half of the audience sprang for a preshow dinner as well. Patrick Cray, general manager of the Arizona Inn, says the experience was "just terrific. It's a unique pairing of tremendous entertainment and a world-class destination. There was such a huge vibe when the shows would let out—a really nice energy."
Sharon McNight is making her way to Tucson for the first time, for shows on June 29 and 30.
"I was in Phoenix once, and it was 110," she says. "Say, wasn't it in The Seven Year Itch that Marilyn Monroe kept her underwear in the refrigerator? Hmmm."
McNight approaches her work with a light touch, while taking care to deliver a great show. Her work spans standards, blues, Broadway (where she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1989) and even country. "I learned to yodel by watching Roy Rogers on The Tonight Show. I thought, 'I can do that.'"
She launches into an impressive demonstration. Yes, she can.
As an only child, she was given all kinds of lessons, including dance, and she played the flute throughout her school days. But she didn't realize she could really sing until she auditioned for a musical in junior college. "I opened my mouth, and this big sound came out. I remember their faces. Nobody knew I could sing—I didn't either, really." Playing the flute had taught her the breath control she needed to sing.
She earned a master's degree in directing at San Francisco State University and did her thesis on experimental children's theater, reimagining The Wizard of Oz. "Years later, I was standing in a nightclub in San Francisco in the Castro District, and somebody said something, and I did an impression of Billie Burke (who played Glinda, the good witch, in Oz). The piano player overheard and started playing, and I did all the voices." That inspired her subsequently to edit that 17-minute "landing scene" into a seven-minute medley, and "I've been doing it ever since—even in Carnegie Hall. I do a lot of different kinds of things—it's really old-style entertainment. I'm not afraid to try anything."
Consider one of her shows, Songs to Offend Almost Everyone. "Actually there's a great tradition of offensive songs." One of her favorites is by Margaret Archer and Chet Atkins: "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" "It was only on the radio for three days before it was pulled, but I remembered it, and 20 years later, I found it!"
McNight is funny, yes, but she performs with vulnerability as well. "There's this song—'The Kid Inside' by Craig Carnelia—that took me six years to learn. Every time I would start to sing it, I'd cry. But I said to myself, 'You have a choice here: Either you learn the song, or you go to therapy, and therapy is very expensive, so you'd better learn the song.' So I learned the song, and you know what? Now everybody else cries."
Richard Glazier takes another road to a great evening's entertainment. He is a classically trained pianist and has won numerous international competitions. But when he was 12, something happened that changed his life.
"I was lucky," he remembers. "The course of my life was defined when I met Ira Gershwin on April 2, 1975. That meeting was a revelation to me and remains to this day one of the highlights of my life, a very personal experience which gets more intense as I get older."
From that defining moment grew Glazier's passion for the composers, performers, musicals and films of early-20th-century America. "Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers—they heard the voices of the melting pot of America and synthesized them into their own unique styles of American popular song. The songs are a deep part of our culture. The lyrics are clever, and the music is beautiful, but the songs go so much deeper."
Glazier, performing on June 15 and 16, says people make connections when they hear these songs, and they share stories on his website about how they have been changed by hearing him perform. "This is the reward," he says. "This is why I devote myself to this genre. I'm a classically trained pianist, but I interpret this music with the same respect and discipline I would a Chopin nocturne. I study these great singers, their nuances, and I try to sing the lines with my fingers."
Glazier's shows weave together music, history and anecdotes with "a desire to make my audiences fall in love with this music." He is widely known for his PBS specials From Gershwin to Garland—A Musical Journey With Richard Glazier and From Ragtime to Reel Time—Richard Glazier in Concert.
"As a performer, when people come to listen to you, it's a tremendous compliment and a huge responsibility. Really, this arts business is about love; it's about giving. You love what you do with all your heart. You can't live without it. And you have to share that. When I take my audiences to 1021 N. Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills to my life-defining moment, they're right there with me. We laugh; we cry; we learn. It's what makes me want to keep growing—believing that this makes a difference in the world."