The great musician Corky Hale needs no introduction. She and her husband composer Mike Stoller have worked with everyone in the music business including Sinatra and Steisand. She is currently producing a revue entitled I Only Have Eyes For You about the music of Al Dubin. It will open at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre Friday May 13. In our chat Hale talks about the show, Dubin and about her incomparable show business life.
Tell our readers about I Only Have Eyes For You. Is it a book musical?
Yes it is.
I’ve heard that the show has a terribly interesting background. Tell us about Al Dubin and how you became familiar with him.
I am married to songwriter Mike Stoller and am a musician and a singer – and I am always interested in songwriters. We were living in New York in the 1970s and 1980s, and there was a series at the 92nd Street Y called “Lyrics & Lyricists” produced by Maurice Levine. Maurice called me one day and said, “I am going to do an evening on Al Dubin and Harry Warren and I’d like you to play piano.” I knew about Harry Warren but nobody knew who Al Dubin was, even though we always knew them as Dubin and Warren.
They had written the songs for the groundbreaking Busby Berkeley musicals at Warner Bros. – and what songs! “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” “42nd Street,” “We’re in the Money,” “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,” “September in the Rain,” “South American Way,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “Lullaby of Broadway” which won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1935.
The night of the event in the front row was a woman in a wheelchair, and she introduced herself as Al Dubin’s daughter, Patricia McGuire, who the producer had flown in from LA. We got to talking and she said, “I would love to get together with you when you are in LA.” When Mike and I moved to Los Angeles in 1989, I called her -- and we became close friends. She gave me the book she wrote on her father Al Dubin.
I then saw a show about Oscar Levant and saw the possibilities of creating a show about an important musical figure – and thought that the life and times of Dubin would make a great show.
Where did you first produce the show?
I originally produced the show at the Tiffany Theatre in Hollywood. The show got great reviews – the Los Angeles Times said it was one of the best shows of the year – and we ran for three months. After our success at The Tiffany, the Coconut Grove Playhouse wanted to do it, so I took it to Florida, where it ran for a month and received another set of great reviews.
What does Kay Cole bring to this new production of the show as director and choreographer?
When I was looking for a director and choreographer, I saw a show that Kay had directed and staged – I always knew she had a great reputation. She and I met and she said she loved the material. I think she’s an incredible director and choreographer. She really understands the music from this era. Those great songs are just fantastic. And it is what brings the audience to us.
Talk a little about Jared Gertner who is playing the lead. What does he bring special to Al Dubin?
We had two weeks of auditions and our casting director and Kay Cole found Jared Gertner. After seeing hundreds of people we said “He looks like Al!” He is the embodiment of Al Dubin, so imagine my delight when Jared walked in, looking like Al, and then sang! He is a terrific guy and easy to work with, and I can’t say enough good things about him.
What makes this musical bio different from others that we have seen?
I have been thinking a long time about the challenges we have in the world today, and I began to think about how Al Dubin was an inspiration during the Depression and how his songs uplifted the nation.
Mike and I think and act on our beliefs in making the world a better place. We are involved in many important causes, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery Alabama. Two years ago, they dedicated their Civil Rights Memorial Theatre in our honor – it’s in the same plaza where Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks spoke.
And suddenly, I wanted to do this show again. I want to bring something happy into the world – and this is a showpiece of this joyous music with a cast of 12 dancers and singers and a 10-piece orchestra. And it brings back tap dancing to the stage.
For me, it is the music that sets the show apart from others. The greatest show I saw on Broadway this past year was An American in Paris. Each composer is different and while not the same story as Gershwin, or the new Shuffle Along about Eubie Blake – every composer has a different life and a different story to tell. So I want to bring this music, and Dubin’s life, to the stage.
Tell us more about your passion for the American songbook...and your association with Billie Holiday.
I have had the good fortune to live a life in the great American popular songbook. I am the only woman who was ever Billie Holiday’s pianist. When director Lonny Price was putting together Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill a few years ago on Broadway, he brought Audra McDonald out to meet me so I could share my memories of Billie Holliday with her.
I understand for someone who appears to be a big city woman, you began life as a farm girl. Is that so?
Yes. I’m from a small farm town from the Midwest – I have had the most unusual life. It’s the happiest life of anyone I have ever known. My mother never set foot in the kitchen as she went to work everyday with my father – they owned a chain of woman’s clothing stores in small towns with my dad’s seven brothers. They gave me the happiest start of what has become an incredible life.
Who are some of the all-time great singers you have worked with?
A book about my life is in the works, detailing my relationships with everyone I’ve had the great fortune to work or record with over the years: Sinatra, James Dean, Sammy Davis, Jr., Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, June Christy, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Yusef Lateef, Phoebe Snow, Judy Collins, George Michael, and Björk-- just to name a few. I met Sinatra and played on some of his records at Capitol. Frank was always wonderful to me. I also had a nice black dress with pearls and went to parties with him, so if he got bored he had someone to talk to, and he treated me like a daughter. I am in Kitty Kelley’s book about him!
Streisand is still my idol of any singer I have recorded and performed with. She is a genius. Not only did I play with her when she became the first one to do a major concert in Central Park; she also brought me out in 1968 to play at the Hollywood Bowl with her.
Any last words on I Only Have Eyes For You?
It has taken a long time to get I Only Have Eyes For You to the production that I have always imagined, and I am so thrilled to be doing this now!
I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU began previews Tuesday, May 10, and has its official press opening on Friday, May 13. Performances will continue through Sunday, June 12 at the Montalban Theatre, 1615 Vine St. in Hollywood. Following previews, performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm; Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are available now at www.flavorus.com or by calling 1-323-461-6999.