Musical education

Courtesy of Gillian Kelly

Gillian Kelly, performing in March at Davenport’s Piano Bar Cabaret in Chicago, will perform her one-woman cabaret show “Pop Meets the Classics” on Thursday and Friday as a fundraiser for the Durango Arts Center theater and programs.

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

Any fan of Hollywood can tell you that when it comes to show biz, it’s hard to find an original idea.

There is something to be said for going with what works: The fifth installment in Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” series could make as much as the previous four blockbusters combined when it opens this weekend.

But “borrowing” from previous works is not exclusive to the movie industry.

Musicians do it, too, including Chicago cabaret singer Gillian Kelly. She was trained as an opera singer. It was her daughter who opened her eyes to how prevalent sampling is in the music business.

“I had missed out on a lot of music trends as an opera singer and she made me a CD – ‘The Miseducation of Gillian Kelly,’” Kelly said Monday at Durango Arts Center between rehearsals for her stage show “Pop Meets the Classics.” “And as I kept hearing these modern songs, I’d say: ‘That sounds like Chopin’ or ‘That’s Bach,’ and I saw the connection between classical and pop that I’d never noticed before because I wasn’t listening for it.”

Kelly will do a two-night stint at Durango Arts Center as a benefit for the center’s theater programs. She is the sister-in-law of Durango resident and DAC supporter Erica Max. Through her, Kelly met DAC theater director Theresa Carson.

“I was part of an ensemble group in Chicago, so I really believe in what she’s trying to accomplish,” Kelly said.

“Pop Meets the Classics” is a new show that Kelly will polish in Durango before taking it to Chicago and on the road to New York City later this year.

She described the previous version of the show as more educational that engaged the audience in a question-and-answer format. For the new show, Kelly focuses on entertaining the audience herself, but they’ll still learn something.

“I wanted to add things to make it a lot of fun,” Kelly said.

What the audience will learn is why, when we hear a song such as The Toys’ 1965 hit “A Lover’s Concerto” (“How gentle is the rain, That falls softly on the meadow...”), it might sound more familiar than we think. That one went all the way back to 1725 for its melody, which came from J.S. Bach’s Minuet in G major.

Among other “crossovers” that Kelly will explore are the Mindbenders/Phil Collins’ hit “Groovy Kind of Love,” which was influenced by Muzio Clementi’s Sonatina in G major, and Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never,” which sounds a lot like the 1898 Neopolitan classic “O Sole Mio.”

Each song has its own story, too, such as Eric Carmen’s hit “All By Myself.” Carmen was aware the tune was reminiscent of a Rachmaninov piano concerto, but he thought the piece was in the public domain and free to use. An expensive settlement with the composer’s estate taught him otherwise.

Kelly also plans to return to her own roots, which add another layer of variety to the show. She will sing three operatic arias from “Tosca,” “La Boheme” and “Carmen,” each of which have modern counterparts as well. Also not to be missed is her signature version of Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive” done in a Russian dance/Marlena Dietrich style.

“I’ve also added a couple of special things because it’s Valentines Day, a few funny things that have to do with relationships. It’s quite an eclectic show – dirty cabaret to arias,” she said. “Everyone who’s been involved has said there’s never been anything like it here.”

Kelly’s musical accompaniment for the concerts will be local jazz men Lee Bartley on piano and Chad MacCluskey on electric bass.

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