Sep 23, 2012 - Rebecca Ungerman's Cy Matters


     The way singer, songwriter, and producer Rebecca Ungerman sees it, she always has “these vast fields of music” looming in front of her, begging to be explored.  And when she does, the result is often a brand-new concert experience, celebrating the work of an entertainer or composer who has caught her ear.

            In the case of Cy Matters, her Sunday presentation, it’s Cy Coleman, the well-known composer, songwriter, and pianist who died in 2004, after a string of Broadway and other successes.  The show has a direct relationship to one of her SummerStage offerings for the Performing Arts Center Trust last summer, “A Blossom, Dearie,” which centered around the music of legendary New York cabaret singer Blossom Dearie.

            “As I was putting that together,” she remembers,” I kept coming across these songs by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, songs with clever, really smart, lyrics, and wonderful melodies.”

            And then she found that she had been a Cy Coleman fan for a long time.

            “He’d done the Shirley MacLaine specials, which were some of my favorite TV shows – like `The Carol Burnett Show,’ only on crack,” she says with a laugh. “They were fascinating. And `Sweet Charity’ was a huge show in my past. He wrote that with Dorothy Fields, who was much older and had had a great career before she met him. ”

            As she looked at his work, as well as the output of Fields and Leigh, she decided she’d take what she calls “a couple of little detours” in the concert, in order to turn a brief spotlight on his collaborators.

            “Dorothy Fields was a huge songwriter, beginning back in the ‘20s,” Ungerman says. “We’ll go back to the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, probably for `I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ and `Sunny Side of the Street.’ I’m also looking at `The Way You Look Tonight,’ which is such a great song.

            “There’s a story about how she and Cy Coleman started working together. He met her at a party and said, `Why don’t we write together?’ And she said, `Thank God somebody asked.’ Their collaboration didn’t end until her [1974] death.”

            With Carolyn Leigh, Ungerman says, Coleman wrote “Witchcraft” and “The Best Is Yet to Come.” 

            “Those are two real standards in the great American jazz songbook,” she adds. “They also did Lucille Ball’s only [Broadway] musical, Wildcat. That gave us `Hey, Look Me Over,’ which became an LSU fight song.”

            Coleman’s work even has some connections to northeastern Oklahoma, she says. In the early ‘90s, for instance, he collaborated with Betty Comden and Adolph Green on The Will Rogers Follies. Also, the 1997 Broadway production of Coleman’s The Life starred Sand Springs’ Sam Harris.

            Although he was an accomplished jazz pianist and songwriter, Coleman is probably best known for his contributions to the musical theater, Ungerman, however, doesn’t plan on including a lot of show tunes in Cy Matters

            “I’m trying to keep it focused on jazz,” she explains, “and while you could take some of his Broadway stuff and give it a jazz spin, that’s not what this is about. It’s about presenting his work, not what I can do with it. I take these Jazz Hall of Fame shows pretty seriously, and for me, they have to be partly educational.”

            For Cy Matters, she’ll be joined by pianist Steven Schrag, the most recent winner of the Young Artists Piano Competition, sponsored by the Oklahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE) and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.

            “He did all three of my summer shows at the Performing Arts Center, and he was an inspiration,” she says. “He’s got great hands and a wonderful attitude. I’m thrilled to be doing this show with him.”

            As the Young Artists winner, Schrag is set to play several concerts in Israel. And, coincidentally,  Ungerman is also headed to that country, where she’ll stage her musical playThe Unwitting Wife at the International Theatre Festival in Tiberius, Tulsa’s sister city.   

            “It’s two different trips and two different missions,” she says, “but we’re both going to be cultural ambassadors to Israel.”