Arete Productions brings Tony-nominated ‘Swing!’ to the New Vic

The "Swing!" cast mixes students from SBCC and UCSB.
The “Swing!” cast mixes students from SBCC and UCSB.

As Duke Ellington once opined some eight decades ago, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” And that holds true with this evening of jumping jive coming to The New Vic. Produced by Dauri Kennedy and directed by Miriam Dance-Leavy, “Swing!” — the 1999 Tony-nominated musical — features singing, dancing and live music straight from the music era that couldn’t keep still.

The 90-minute show features the music of the Duke as well as Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, played by a full swing band led by SBCC’s Chuck “Dr. Jazz” Wood, who was director of bands and jazz studies at the college for 15 years and Music Chair for three.

Jessica Kurtzman and Robert Moore helped out with choreography and also dance in "Swing!" Sophia Winnikoff photos
Jessica Kurtzman and Robert Moore helped out with choreography and also dance in “Swing!”
Sophia Winnikoff photos
“There’s a thin plot that runs through the show, but it’s really a revue,” Ms. Kennedy says. “It’s a thin plot told in dance and song. Very little spoken dialogue. It’s one great swing number after the next, with a few ballads thrown in the mix.” Classic songs include “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “Blues in the Night,” “In the Mood,” “GI Jive” and “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy.”

The production started as a way to promote Santa Barbara’s School of Performing Arts, and “Swing!” came into it through Ms. Dance-Leavy, who is well-versed in the style. Plus, Ms. Dance-Leavy stole the show last year as Maureen in Arete Productions’ “Rent” and is having no problem also directing.

“It’s high energy and combines so many art forms,” says Ms. Kennedy. (Arete Productions, whose name is on the show, is the school’s production wing.)

Ms. Kennedy and Ms. Dance-Leavy brought in some Santa Barbara heavyweights. The aforementioned Chuck Wood is synonymous with big band jazz and, well, he’s the opposite of the instructor in “Whiplash” — a sweetheart, according to Ms. Kennedy, who sings with him in their church choir.

“Every time I’ve gone to one of his concerts, I’ve loved it,” she says, talking about Mr. Wood’s Monday Madness band, one of three he leads. “This is his music. This is a fabulous list of music, from ‘Skylark’ to ‘Cry Me a River’ to ‘Caravan.’ These are songs people know. Chuck keeps going on about how he’s never seen arrangements like this, and it really is well done.” (The arrangements were done by Harold Wheeler, who also got nominated for a Tony.)

Lead choreographer Derrick Curtis comes with over two decades of experience, working in many genres of dance and producing BASSH at the Lobero every year. He’ll be aided by Jessica Kurtzman and Robert Moore, who also dance in the show.

The dance ensemble mixes students from SBCC and UCSB, with one high schooler: 2012’s Teen Star runner-up Megan Wilson.

The New Vic usually hosts Ensemble Theatre’s plays, but it was always in its mission to outreach to high school and college youth as well, and Ms. Kennedy says that they’ve been very helpful. The show runs for two weeks.

“People might think that this is a show where people get up and sing in front of a band,” Ms. Kennedy says. “But this is a show with big dance numbers, with lifts and turns and all sorts of things happening. There’ll be very complex harmonies too, and your eyes and ears will be stimulated. It will capture all your senses.”

“Swing!”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, through March 7, and Friday-Sunday, March 13-15; 2 p.m. Sunday March 15
Where: The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St.
Cost: $15-$25
Information: (805) 965-5400, www.ensembletheatre.com/boxoffice/tickets

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