Joan Curto Headshot 2015On a balmy June night in 2009, I first appeared on the Auditorium Theatre’s stage as part of their “On Stage With…” Series, and ever since I have been in love;  in love with the beauty of this historical landmark, the perfect acoustics, the history of this storied theatre,  the staff that makes you feel like you are part of their family, and the magic they create season after season on their stage. I have attended many productions at the Auditorium over the last six years – from ballet to cabaret to the raucous and joy-filled productions of Too Hot to Handel.  To be part of the final concert of the Billy Strayhorn Festival is indeed a thrill.

This thrill includes performing with the Too Hot to Handel orchestra, having heard them many times, and each time feeling amazed at their joyful, exuberant sound. It also includes singing alongside Darius de Haas, a Chicago native who has gone on to tremendous success on Broadway, working with multiple Grammy Award Winning pianist and arranger Alan Broadbent, following the lead of conductor Bruce Mayhall Rastrelli who has been part of the musical telling of Billy Strayhorn’s story for many years, and enjoying the talents of the Joel Hall Dancers (and staying out of their way lest I step on their toes!) But the biggest thrill is the honor of singing a few of the songs of a jazz master – Billy Strayhorn.

The audience will hear his story in this full theatrical production, so I won’t retell it here. But as a lover of the history of the American Songbook, Billy Strayhorn’s place in the history of American Music is undeniable. While he may not have been given the accolades he deserved during his lifetime, his legacy as one of the great jazz composers of the 20th century has endured and grown richer. His talents as a composer and arranger are revered and his contributions significant. And if you are lucky –you have a ticket and will get to hear these songs, too.

The opportunity to be part of this production leaves me giddy. Really, it does. I will be singing the well know song “Satin Doll,” and the lesser known, but hauntingly beautiful, “Daydream – both with a choir of 30 men behind me ( and who wouldn’t like that?). I will be introducing, to most of the audience, a lesser known song he wrote for his best friend, Lena Horne, called “Maybe” which has sass and humor – two of my favorite things! And, I get to sing them on one of the most beautiful stages in Chicago!

Finally, this concert will be the last show for Brett Batterson, the Auditorium’s Executive Director who is moving to Memphis. Brett gave me my first opportunity at the Auditorium and I am but one of many Chicagoans who can also say that. Brett and the Auditorium Theatre have always supported Chicago talent and he will be missed. Thank you, Brett, thank you!  Let’s send him out with a bang and one final memory to take south!

See you at the show!

Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn performs this Saturday, November 21 at 8PM.