Dreamcatcher offers ‘The Great American Songbook’

SUMMIT, NJ — Some of the richest, most enduring sounds of 20th century jazz are coming to Summit this weekend, as the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre prepares to put on matinees of “The Great American Songbook” on Friday, Nov. 20, through Sunday, Nov. 22, to showcase a popular cabaret full of classics.

Many of the songs from “The Great American Songbook,” from Louis Armstrong’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to Frank Sinatra’s “The Best Is Yet to Come,” will be familiar to the audience. They all originate from the 1920s through the 1950s, dubbed “the golden age of American popular music” by Laura Ekstrand, Dreamcatcher’s Artistic Director.

And those songs have played a role in shaping contemporary music, as well, according to jazz musician and Summit native Dan Rufolo, who will be performing alongside various singers, members of the the Dreamcatcher company and the rest of the Rufolo Trio.

“Jazz tradition is steeped in ‘Great American Songbook.’ The tunes that I play at performances today, a bunch of them still come from that list of songs,” said Rufolo. “What’s great about jazz is there’s always new textures or new ways to play it, you can bring fresh ideas to the music each time, and it will be exciting to have a new spin on it with artists I haven’t worked with before.”

The list of composers behind the song list reads like a hall of fame ballot from the era: Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern. And widespread familiarity with the material is why, in the comfortable confines of the Oakes Center, audiences will be encouraged to join in the action and sing along with the performers.

“At all of our cabarets, we encourage people to sing out loud. We don’t want it to be a formal experience where we sing and people stare at us. People are going to know these songs, be familiar with them, and we always love when they sing along,” said Ekstrand. “We have a bunch of singers in the company, and we all just love this music. We do a lot of outreach, where we’ll do cabarets in different locations, but we do very few cabarets in our theater, so we thought it would be nice to do it at home.”

The performance will represent a homecoming of sorts for Rufolo, who regularly returns to the city from his new home in Manhattan. It’s one of his favorite places to perform, he said, because of the community’s understanding of the arts.

“I’m always, constantly, back in Summit. I think one of my favorite things is the Summit crowd is very appreciative of the arts, and it’s really great to have an audience that’s warm and receptive. It’s one of my favorite places to perform,” said Rufolo. “I love playing there. It’s great to perform for really close friends and people you meet, as much as I can.”

Anyone can enjoy the classics that make up “The Great American Songbook,” which Dreamcatcher is making as accessible as possible, said Ekstrand. Matinee performances, rather than night-time shows, make it “easy and comfortable” for an older crowd, which may be more likely to recognize the renaissance of 20th century classics.

“We try, in the fall, to do one thing right before Thanksgiving that’s directed toward a more senior audience. So we’ve done a couple of different shows, but we thought this one might be fun,” said Ekstrand. “We’ve done a couple of musical things, a couple of dramatic things. With this one, we have songs that an older generation will be familiar with, will enjoy, and younger people can, as well.”

Tickets are $25. To purchase tickets or for information on any of Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre’s programs, visit www.dreamcatcherrep.org or contact Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at Oakes Center, 120 Morris Ave., Summit, at 908-514-9654.