You walk into Theater C, the smallest space at 59E59 Theaters, and find it transformed into a tiny, crowded nightclub. You’re shown to your table and offered a drinks menu. Settling in, you look up at the wee corner stage, set up for a miniature swing band, and wonder where there could possibly be room for any kind of staging.
It soon becomes apparent that there is to be no staging. You’re in for a concert – if something of a concept-concert – rather than a theatrical production, and that, as it turns out, is just fine. The Anderson Twins Play the Fabulous Dorseys is no more and no less than a musical tribute to Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey, the sometimes-feuding brothers who both became giants of 20th century jazz and the dance band scene – and of midcentury pop culture. Young Pete and Will Anderson, twin brothers and phenomenally talented reed players, lead a six-piece band with a tight, full sound that often comes remarkably close to the energy of a full-sized swing/dance band.
Interspersed with the musical numbers, you see clips from the 1947 film The Fabulous Dorseys in which the Dorsey brothers played themselves. These scenes give you a capsule biography of the pair: Tommy Dorsey was best known as a hugely successful bandleader and trombonist (though, a little disappointingly, there’s no ‘bone in the Andersons’ band), while saxophonist Jimmy Dorsey was an accomplished composer. The brothers worked together and separately for many years on stage and later on television.
The Andersons intersperse a few snatches of playful banter suggesting parallels between them and the Dorseys, but this show is really all about the music. Watching the modern brothers’ hard-swinging tribute, which featured songs like “Opus One,” “Runnin’ Wild,” “Deep River,” and “Tangerine,” I reflected on how much certain things have changed. The great jazz and classical musicians of the Dorseys’ day often became pop culture icons as well as respected artists. Today, it isn’t usually the most talented people filing those cultural roles, but the best at honing their image and attuning themselves to the bent of the times.
And indeed, the times have changed. The audience at the show I attended certainly skewed senior. “This could be a Medicare substation,” observed one gentleman at a table near me, with perfectly clear meaning in his mixed metaphor.
Each of the Anderson twins plays multiple instruments. Between them, they cover the tenor and alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet, and flute, often switching between instruments in the same song. These varying colors contribute to the illusion that we’re hearing a much larger swing band. Impressive clarinet and trumpet solos in “Runnin’ Wild,” delicious alto work in Jimmy Dorsey’s own rollicking “Beebe,” and the cutting rhythms of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Grand Central Getaway” are just a few of the highlights among the 18 or so selections. The night I attended, the confident trumpet of Charlie Caranicas and the beat of an able rhythm section completed the evocation of a bygone era. (Different musicians may consitute the band at different performances.)
One of the great things about swing music is that even though it’s old, it remains very accessible – melodic, pulsating, loud – and people of all ages, whether they know jazz at all or not, can get swept away. But it has to be experienced live, and this production, which runs through Oct. 7 at 59E59, can take you on that magic carpet ride.