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Play relives Johnny Mercer's music, tragedy

Production in Statesboro Jan. 25, 26

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POSTED: January 11, 2013 2:52 p.m.
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The cover of one of Johnny Mercer's albums shows the musician smiling, flashing his trademark gapped teeth.

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"Johnny Mercer and Me!, a play based on the life of American songwriter and singer John Mercer, is coming to Statesboro.

Written by Miriam K. Center, the musical tribute to the Savannah-born songwriter will be presented by the Savannah Community Theatre at the Averitt Center for the Arts at the Emma Kelly Theater on Jan. 25 and 26. Mercer and Kelly were lifelong friends and Mercer, himself, gave Kelly her iconic title, “The Lady of 6,000 Songs,” for her encyclopedic knowledge of popular music.

Having recently played to sold-out audiences in Savannah, the musical weaves a collection of memories together with some of the Oscar-winning songwriter’s greatest works. As seen through the eyes of Mercer’s longtime friend and confidante, Maxine, we learn about Mercer’s relationships, his private life, his love of Savannah, and his consuming alcoholism. A shroud of darkness engulfs the two of them while Mercer deals with his impending death from a brain tumor and Maxine deals with the death of a young son and the lingering memories of the deaths of her mother and father. As both work to overcome their dysfunctions in an era of racism, sexism and classism, they discover the limitations of love and the struggles of life.

“This musical is a wonderful celebration of the life and works of Johnny Mercer,” said Tom Coleman III. Coleman is the director of the Savannah Community Theatre and has collaborated with Center over the past four years to adapt the production for the stage. He first directed the musical in 2009 at the Savannah Civic Center, then presented a revamped production in 2012 at Savannah’s Muse Arts Warehouse. “This show is a labor of love, written by someone who knew the four-time Academy Award winner on a deep and personal level.  I’m proud to be part of it.”

Songs include Mercer hits like "Something’s Gotta Give," "Jeepers Creepers," "The Days of Wine and Roses," "Moon River" and more familiar Mercer Tunes.

There are also a number of references to Mercer’s friend, Georgia music icon Emma Kelly. The Bulloch County native was known for her lively performances at public functions. Her accomplishments included a cameo role in the 1994 movie, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The movie was taken from the best-selling novel written by John Berendt, who dedicated an entire chapter of his novel to Mrs. Kelly’s ability to flawlessly perform virtually any musical request. In 1998, she was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and was awarded an honorary doctor of fine arts from Georgia Southern University. Kelly passed away in January 2001 at the age of 83.

The production will be presented at 7:30 both nights. Tickets range from $18-$25, with youth tickets available for $10. For reservations, call the Averitt Center for the Arts at (912) 212-2787 or go online to averittcenterforthearts.org.

 

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