Eubie's legend lives on

March 22, 2007|By Christina Lee | Christina Lee,sun reporter

This ragtime legend died 24 years ago, but thanks to a cast of raconteurs, he and his story will live on.

On Wednesday, Olney Theatre Center starts celebrating the career of James Hubert "Eubie" Blake, a ragtime composer and performer. Broadway veteran Tony Parise directs and choreographs Eubie! - an adaptation of the 1978 musical revue. His intentions were to re-create the production with a modern twist for today's audiences.

"It deserves to be heard by a new audience and a new generation," he said.

A Baltimore native, Blake broke into the ragtime scene with "The Charleston Rag" in 1889. Hits like "You're Lucky to Me," "Memories of You" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry" - arguably his most popular song - made Blake one of the most popular ragtime composers of the 1920s. In 1969, he released a double LP, The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake.

Blake also became a well-known Broadway songwriter after writing for 1921's Shuffle Along - the first all-black musical - with singer Noble Sissie. He would later write and perform the music for the original production of Eubie! His efforts earned one of three Tony nominations that the production received.

Parise had collaborated with Julianne Boyd, the creator and first director of Eubie! in four other productions, including On the Twentieth Century and Funny Girl at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfelt, Mass. Before working on this production, he was only acquainted with Blake's music. But now, after listening to recordings and interviews with the musician, Parise said his understanding of his legacy is much deeper.

"I have fallen in love all over again," he said. "I loved how he took operetta and twisted in a new sound and rhythm, to make it unique and original."

Parise found that the original production was laden with characteristics of the late 1970s, particularly its costumes and some of the musical transitions. Under his direction, Parise hopes that a revitalized version of the production will have a new generation develop an appreciation for Blake and his legacy.

He and musical director Bruce W. Coyle took Blake's original scores, "approaching each of them from scratch," and created new arrangements for this production. In addition, the costumes now reflect the time of Blake's career - the flash of 1920s showgirls and high couture glamour of the 1950s.

Parise said in a news release that "I wanted to update Eubie! by bringing out the purest elements of the ragtime era," its music, its transitions and even the production's costumes.

On the other hand, just as Boyd created the original production around the reunion of brothers Gregory and Maurice Hines, Parise tailored his version to the talent of his cast. This cast includes a group of nine singers, dancers and actors from all over the United States, including a few Washington and Maryland favorites: Devron T. Young, Roz White Gonsalves, Loretta Giles, LC Harden Jr. and Kara-Tameika Watkins.

Olney Theatre Center presents "Eubie!" Wednesday-April 29, at 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road. Showtimes vary. Tickets are $25-$46, half price for children. Call 301-924-3400 or go to

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.