As Zeppelins dropped bombs on London and the sons of Britain were being slain one by one in the trenches of Europe, a song by Ivor Novello brought comfort and inspiration to British citizens languishing at home. “Keep the Home Fires Burning” is just one of countless songs by Novello, a composer who made an indelible mark on the British songbook.
William Jewell College alumni, current voice faculty and students will present “Glamorous Night: An Ivor Novello Musical Revue” March 23 and 24 at the J.C. Nichols Auditorium at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
The revue, arranged and adapted by Christopher Milton, takes place on the precipice of the Great War. The setting is an engagement party for a young couple, where joy and hope are soon punctured by news that England has declared war on Germany.
One of the highlights of the program is “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” which Novello composed in 1914 right at the beginning of the war.
“It really became an anthem for the British during that time,” said Eryn Bates, who will provide the piano accompaniment. “I would say it’s his most well-known piece. … It had the tune, the lyrics and a memorable melody that was singable.
“It struck a chord with the British, and Novello gained almost overnight notoriety and success. He made nearly $3 million dollars on just this one song, which came from sheet music and rights.”
Bates, who is also director of development for the Harriman-Jewell Series, first performed “Glamorous Nights” when she was taking part in the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England, in 2013. Enamored with Novello’s music, she returned to the States bearing the score. Over coffee with Ian Coleman, the chair of the William Jewell College music department, she mentioned her hope to one day perform the revue in Kansas City.
“We really didn’t think any more of it,” Coleman said. “But then a little after that there were some Creativity Grants that opened up at William Jewell. I suddenly put two and two together and thought perhaps we would be able to apply for one of these grants and put on this production that Eryn had in mind.”
Coleman got the grant, which is intended to foster creativity on and off the William Jewell campus. With the funding in place, Bates and Coleman assembled a cast and crew that combines professional singers who are also Jewell alumni, as well as current Jewell faculty and students.
Securing the grant wasn’t Coleman’s only contribution to the project. A distinguished composer himself, he made a special arrangement of “Keep the Home Fires Burning” for a quartet of male voices.
With the professional singers, one of whom is being flown in from Chicago, and William Jewell’s superb music faculty, Bates says, “Glamorous Nights” is an opportunity for the school’s students to get some real-life experience.
“We have so many students involved, from poster design to technical support to performers,” Bates said. “It’s an opportunity to really demonstrate the capability of Jewell’s music program, theater program and the critical thinking that all Jewell alums carry with them.”
Novello, born David Ivor Davies in Wales in 1893, is a remarkable figure in British music history. He was a friend and colleague of Noel Coward and also was something of an early film sensation. He was the main attraction in two silent films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “The Lodger” and “Downhill.” But Novello’s songs are his most enduring legacy.
“Novello has an uncanny ability to merge lush melody with lyrics, sometimes witty turns of phrase and other times beautiful, romantic sentiment,” Bates said. “It’s grand and decadent, but it also gives you the chance to uncover a treasure with each tune, some that you’ll keep with you always.”
7:30 p.m. March 23 and 2 p.m. March 24, J.C. Nichols Auditorium, National World War I Museum, Free, but RSVP required. To reserve your tickets, visit tinyurl.com/yaaqyjot.
If you already have your tickets for Yo-Yo Ma’s concert with the Kansas City Symphony, count yourself lucky. All three performances are sold out. You can, however, call the Kansas City Symphony to be put on a waiting list for tickets. It’s a concert worth the effort. In addition to Ma’s performing a Haydn cello concerto, Michael Stern will conduct the world premiere of a symphony commissioned work by Chris Rogerson, Three Meditations from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and Respighi’s brassy “Pines of Rome.”
8 p.m. March 23 and 24 and 2 p.m. March 25. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $60. 816-471-0440 or kcsymphony.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.