A Fundraiser for CCCT: Three performances only!
Friday, December 3, 7:30 pm
Saturday, December 4, 7:30 pm
Sunday, December 5, 2 pm
Tickets: $40/adults; $20/youth (ages 13-16)
Masks and proof of vaccination are required for entrance to the theatre.
NOTE: subscriber credits are not valid for this production
Everyone has a favorite song this time of year–one that brings home cherished memories of the holiday season. Contra Costa Civic Theatre is proud to present a Vegas-inspired evening filled with those songs and memories, performed by Bay Area favorite LaMont Ridgell and his “friends”, Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat “King” Cole, backed by a swinging three-piece combo. You’ll hear old favorites and new treasures, including “The Most Wonderful Time of Year”, “Silent Night/The Christmas Song”, and “Happy Holidays” in this one-of-a-kind salute to the season created especially for CCCT.
LAMONT RIDGELL (vocals) has been proudly associated with CCCT for many years, with memorable shows including Ragtime, West Side Story, The Secret Garden, and Big River. Originally from River Rouge, MI, he is a sought-after artist in the Bay Area theatre community, having played roles in The Full Monty, Ragtime, Man of La Mancha, Next to Normal, Angels in America, and Master Harold….and the Boys, to name a few. He is also a member of the Bay Area-based Rat Pack Summit. He and Artistic Director Marilyn Langbehn have been discussing the idea of bringing a brand new, original holiday fundraiser to CCCT for many years and here it is. We hope you enjoy.
ARMANDO FOX (piano) is a classically trained (since age 5) pianist who completed pre-conservatory training at the Mannes College of Music, New York (now part of the New School). There he studied piano performance with Michael Boriskin and others, as well as music theory, ear training, ensemble performance, choir, arranging, the whole enchilada. He grew up in New York City and loves the theater; he’s Music Directed about two dozen shows and played in pits for many others. Other theater contributions include original orchestrations for Ron Lytle’s Oh My Godmother! and workshop arrangements for The Man Who Saved Christmas (which were replaced for the CD recording, so the ones on the CD aren’t his work); ambitious reductions (usually to 6 or fewer pieces) of Man of La Mancha, Merrily We Roll Along, Assassins, and others; and additional original arrangements for Cabaret, Assassins, and others. As far as he knows, he’s the author of the best book on music direction written by a computer scientist and the best computer science textbook written by a music director. He also plays actual 80s vintage synthesizers in the 80s cover band Disposable Pop; his previous cover bands, including Spoon and More at Eleven, have been finalists in MIT’s Battle of the Bands, surely a distinction far more prestigious than the Grammy Awards.
ROBERTA DRAKE Since 1977 Roberta Drake (percussionist) has been playing drums in theaters, clubs, restaurants, weddings, and corporate events in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has played in over 150 musical productions which include many original shows, working with writers, music directors, singers, actors, and dancers.
She has been a member of the Tom Shaw Trio since 2008, working with singers and musicians. Tom Shaw Trio recently made an appearance and created original music for the film, Hush Up Sweet Charlotte and created music for the films, The Last Smile and Don’t Know Me, KNFR from 7:00-7:30, The Muppetless Movie, and Duluth Is Horrible.
JOHN GREITZER (bass) plays bass in a variety of settings including musical theater, big band, and small group jazz and cabaret. He is the bassist for the Tom Shaw Trio, a popular San Francisco-based trio playing at events throughout the Bay Area, and has played with singers including Bay Area favorites Tom Reardon and Katya Smirnoff-Skyy at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, the Oasis, and at Contra Costa Civic Theatre. He also has played bass with the Civic Arts Jazz Band in Walnut Creek and the Brentwood Big Band. His musical theater work includes Nine and Big River at CCCT. Shows he has performed at other venues include Guys and Dolls, First Date, Bat Boy, Rent, Sideshow, Oh My Godmother, The Man Who Saved Christmas, and All Shook Up. In addition to bass, John also plays guitar, banjo, and ukulele. A native of Pennsylvania, John lives in Martinez and spends his non-music time volunteering for the Contra Costa County Historical Society, reading, hiking, and trying to avoid lawn chores.
Place of Birth: Harlem, New York
Place of Death: Beverly Hills, California
Sammy Davis, Jr., singer, dancer, actor, and musician (who played vibraphone trumpet, and drums), was born into a musically artistic family. His mother, the Puerto-Rican-born Elvera “Baby” Sanchez, was a tap dancer; his father, Sammy Davis, Sr., was an African-American vaudevillian who was the lead dancer with Will Mastin’s Holiday in Dixieland. As an infant, he was raised by his paternal grandmother, Rosa B. (“Mama”) Davis, in an apartment on 140th Street and Eighth Avenue in New York City. When he was three years old his parents separated and his father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour. As a child, “little Sammy” learned to dance from his father and his adopted “Uncle” Will, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. In 1929 at the age of four, Davis joined the act, which was renamed the Will Mastin Trio, and toured the vaudeville circuit, accompanying his elders with flash tap dance routines. Called “Poppa” by his father and “Mose Gastin” by Uncle Will, he traveled and performed with the Mastin troupe, taking time off to make his motion picture debut in Rufus Jones for President (1933), a black short subject two-reeler filmed at Brooklyn’s Warner studios, in which he played a little boy who falls asleep in the lap of his mother (Ethel Waters) and dreams of being elected President of the United States. Small and slightly built, he was dubbed “Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget” and became phenomenally popular with audiences. He was reportedly tutored by his idol Bill Robinson, from whom he took tap dance lessons. In a short time, the act was renamed Will Mastin’s Gang, Featuring Little Sammy; and still later, “The Will Mastin Trio, Featuring Sammy Davis Jr.”
In 1942 at age eighteen, Davis was drafted into the Army where he encountered, he says for the first time, blatant racial prejudice, which he countered with his fists. “Overnight the world looked different,” he wrote. “It wasn’t one color anymore. I could see the protection I’d gotten all my life from my father and Will. I appreciated their loving hope that I’d never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I’d walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open.” He was subsequently transferred to Special Services where he performed in army camps across the country, “gorging” himself on “the joy of being liked,” as he wrote in his 1965 autobiography, Yes I Can. He would comb every audience for “haters,” and when he spotted one he would give his performance an extra burst of strength and energy because he “had to get those guys,” to neutralize them and make them acknowledge him. “My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight,” he wrote. “It was the one way I might hope to affect a man’s thinking.”
In 1946, upon being discharged from the Army, he rejoined the Will Mastin Trio and perfected his performance by doing flash-styled tap dancing and impressions of popular screen stars and singers, playing trumpet and drums, and singing to the accompaniment of Sammy Sr. and Uncle Will’s soft-shoe and tap as background. He also recorded some songs for Capitol Records. One of them, a rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight,” was chosen the 1946 Record of the Year by Metronome magazine, which also named him the year’s “Most Outstanding New Personality.” The addition of comedy and tap dancing brought new life to the group, so by the beginning of the next decade they were headlining venues including New York’s Capitol Club and Ciro’s in Hollywood. It was in this period that Davis met Frank Sinatra, who was then with Tommy Dorsey’s band, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The popular “Mr. Bojangles” tune, written by Jerry Jeff Walker and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, later became a standard song in Davis’ act. By 1952, at the invitation of Frank Sinatra, the group played the newly integrated Copacabana Club in New York. In 1954, Davis signed a recording contract with Decca Records, topping the charts with his debut LP “Starring Sammy Davis, Jr.”, and another LP, “Just for Lovers”. After recovering from the loss of an eye in a car accident, he continued to score a series of hit singles including “Something’s Gotta Give,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” and “That Old Black Magic,” and “Too Close for Comfort.”
After a succession of successful club appearances, Davis made his Broadway debut in 1956, with Sam Sr. and Will, in Mr. Wonderful, a musical comedy that was created just for him. He made his solo debut on television on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and did some serious acting in episodes of the “General Electric Theatre” and “The Dick Powell Show.” In 1965 on the “Patty Duke Show” he played himself in “Will the Real Sammy Davis Please Stand Up?” Meanwhile, his recordings were making records–“Hey There,” “Birth of the Blues,” The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Candy Man,” “Gonna Build a Mountain,” and “Who Can I Turn To?” In 1958 he played the role of a jive-talking sailor in the film Anna Lucasta, and in 1959 he played the mischievous Sportin’ Life in the screen version of Porgy and Bess.
In the 1960s Davis became an official member of the so-called Rat Pack, a loose confederation of actors, comedians, and singers that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford. They appeared together in several movies, including Robin and the Seven Hoods and the original Ocean’s Eleven. After achieving success by refusing to work at venues that upheld racial segregation, his demands expanded and eventually led to the integration of Miami Beach nightclubs and Las Vegas casinos, though he continued to press the racial buttons. In 1960, when he married the Swedish-born actress May Britt, interracial marriages were forbidden by law in 31 US states out of 50 (it was not until 1967 that those laws were abolished by the US Supreme Court). The couple had one daughter and adopted two sons. In 1966, he was given the role of a television series host in The Sammy Davis, Jr. Show. After divorcing in 1968, Davis began dating Altovise Gore, a young and talented dancer in one of his shows. They were wed in 1970 by the Reverend Jesse Jackson and remained married until Davis’ death.
While he remained a multi-talented performer, Davis was revered as a proponent and popularizer of tap dance, performing in his own shows, such as Sammy and Company (1975) and Sammy Davis, Jr. the Golden Years (1980). In 1988, he co-starred with Gregory Hines as the patriarchal master of tap dance in the movie Tap! Hines, who worshipped Davis, paid homage to him in the television special Sammy Davis Jr. 60th Anniversary Show (1990), in a tap solo after which he called onto the stage to dance and trade steps, and in the end, bent down and kissed Davis’s feet. Davis died soon after in Beverly Hills, California from complications due to throat cancer, a result of his many years of smoking.
Davis will be remembered throughout his career as one of the world’s greatest entertainers, as a remarkably popular and versatile performer equally adept at acting, singing, dancing, and impersonations — in short, a variety artist in the classic tradition. He is among the very first African-American performers to find favor with audiences on both sides of the color barrier and remains a perennial icon of cool, which could also be said of his tap-dancing– quick-fired with crystal clarity and rhythmically swinging flourishes of flash.
Source: The Library of Congress
Nathaniel Adams Coles was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1919, the son of a grocery man who longed to be a preacher. In 1923 his parents joined the great wave of African Americans migrating north to Chicago. In the Windy City, his father Edward James Coles became Reverend Coles and head of the True Light Baptist Church.
The Coles children learned to play piano from their mother and were recruited to sing or play at their father’s church. Just around the corner, they could hear the tantalizing sound of jazz bands wailing in clubs along 35th and State Street on Chicago’s South Side. It wasn’t long before Nat and his older brother Eddie were sneaking out of their bedroom window at night. Standing on the sidewalks outside nightclubs, they’d soak up the sounds.
Chicago had an incredible variety of jazz in the early 1930s when Nat Cole was a boy. Fats Waller tickled the ivories at the Vendome Theater and New Orleans clarinetist Jimmy Noone jammed at the Midnight Club. Trumpeter Jabbo Smith was at the Panama Café and Earl Hines held forth at the Grand Terrace with his shiny white grand piano.
Just as he’d dazzled his parents by playing “Yes, We Have No Bananas” by ear when he was four years old, Nat applied the same technique to his study of jazz as a teenager. He listened to everything and took it all in. In high school, he formed his own jazz band, The Rogues of Rhythm—and dropped the ‘s’ from his last name. The Chicago Defender ran his photo at age 14 with the caption, “Plenty Hot! Nat Cole is the leader of one of the hottest bands of the Middle West!”
A year later, Cole faced a battle of the bands with his hero, the reigning king of jazz piano, Earl Hines. This time the Defender billed Nat as “Chicago’s young maestro.” It was Sept. 8, 1935, and 5,000 jitterbugging dancers packed the Savoy Ballroom as Cole’s Rogues of Rhythm went head to head with the Earl Hines Orchestra. In the last set of the evening, Nat Cole stole the show playing Hines’ signature song, “Rosetta.”
Yet it took almost a decade for real success to come his way. In 1943 Capitol Records signed Cole’s trio. Within a year, the Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio had their first major hit with “Straighten Up and Fly Right”—an original composition Cole wrote that was inspired by a folk tale his father used in his sermons.
1946 was a big year for Nat ‘King’ Cole. He was the first black American to have his own network radio show, on the air every Saturday evening. Nat’s guests included stars like Mel Tormé, Pearl Bailey, Duke Ellington, and Peggy Lee. And the Metronome magazine readers’ poll named his trio the “best small combo of the year” and “the major influence on the music of 1946.” That December Cole had a monster hit with Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song” which reached #3 on the pop charts. The only thing keeping it from #1 was Cole’s own recording of “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons.”
A year later, Nat made the transition from jazz pianist to singer. At the suggestion of his wife and manager, he began to stand out in front of the band. By the end of 1948, he had abandoned the trio format.
By 1956, ten years after his debut as the first black host of a network radio series, Cole became the first black American to have his own weekly network television series. Nat Cole was one of a handful of black performers to break through the racial barriers of the day and appeal to mainstream black and white audiences. Although his TV show lasted only one season, it remains a landmark in the world of broadcasting.
In the fall of 1964, Nat ‘King’ Cole knew he was dying of lung cancer, but he continued to perform. Cole finished what would be his last engagement at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and entered the hospital a few days later.
A lifelong chain smoker, Nat ‘King’ Cole died on February 15, 1965, at the age of 45. At his funeral, Jack Benny offered this epitaph: “Sometimes death is not as tragic as not knowing how to live. This man knew how to live—and how to make others glad they were living.”