A dazzling show featuring the iconic hits and award-winning songs of Savannah native Johnny Mercer is coming to two local venues this week. The Johnny Mercer Cabaret will be presented by the Tybee Post Theater on Fri., Oct. 15, and at District Live at Plant Riverside District on Sun., Oct. 17, Sunday, Nov. 7, and Sat., Nov. 13.
The music and lyrics of Mercer is being brought to life by an impeccable cast of musical gifts. The talented trio cast includes Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter and jazz performer Stacie Joy Orrico; accomplished Broadway and Off-Broadway musical director Kim Douglas Steiner; and acclaimed vocalist and American Traditions Competition finalist Roger Moss.
“Savannah is proud to claim Johnny Mercer as one of our own and continues to celebrate this beloved songwriter to this day,” said Musical Director Kim Douglas Steiner. “We’re delighted to produce this exceptional show, featuring the world-class talent of Stacie Joy Orrico and Roger Moss.”
Johnny Mercer is considered one greatest American songwriters or all time. Mercer wrote the lyrics to more than 1,700 songs from the 1930s to the 1970s. Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia, on November 18, 1909 and growing up in Savannah had a huge influence in his music. Mercer’s mom loved to sing ballads while his father favored turn of the century standards.
“People didn’t know how much Savannah influenced Johnny’s writings,” said acclaimed vocalist Roger Moss, who is well versed in Mercer’s music and history.
Moss has had a lengthy performing career and has appeared in musicals such as Showboat and Ain’t Misbehavin’ and cabaret performances. He still performs through the Southeast and the nation. He is also friends with the Mercer family.
“Johnny was heavily influenced by Africa. In fact, Johnny used to hang out on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard formerly West Broad Street. That area was booming and an entertainment area,” said Moss.
Mercer grew up during segregation, but West Broad Street during Mercer’s childhood was a thriving area for black owned businesses. In addition to their home in Savannah, the Mercer family has a second home on Burnside Island, not far outside of the city.
A community of African Americans lived on the island, and their ancestors had been slaves before the Civil War. This group of people spoke an African-American dialect called Geechee.
It was there that Mercer would play with other children who were often the children of black servants employed by his family. Also, on the island he was exposed and enriched by the Geechee culture. Learning their dialect and experiencing their music influenced him. Mercer absorbed the influences of the coastal South and its people, merging music to create an entirely new sound and he was inspired by the world of blues and jazz. These influences Moss says you can hear throughout Mercer’s music.
Mercer’s love for nature also started in Savannah and is prevalent throughout his music.
“I just moved here from the West Coast recently. Getting to kind of familiarize myself with Savannah at the same time as studying his music has been cool because he clearly loved nature,” said Grammy nominated singer and songwriter Stacie Joy Orrico. “It’s clear to me that he would walk under the Oak trees and would wander the beautiful historical architectural streets of the city and would go out to the marshes and would pine for his lovers and would sit and contemplate his existence in these beautiful natural spaces.”
Orrico is an accomplished vocalist and songwriter as well. Recording her first album, Genuine (2000), when she was 12 years old selling over 500,000 copies. She opened for Destiny’s Child and after that she released her self-titled album Stacie Orrico (2003). The second single from that album “Thereʼs Gotta Be More To Life“made it into the Top 5 at Top 40 radio, and the album has achieved sales worldwide of over 3.5 million.
Moss and Orrico are thrilled to be working together and recalled they clicked right away when they first met each other a year ago. They also expressed that it has been a pleasure working with musical director Kim Douglas Steiner in putting together this show.
Now all of them with their love for and connection to Mercer’s music is keeping his legacy alive. A legacy that includes founding Capitol Records in 1942 and winning 4 Academy awards and 18 nominations.
“He was an interesting man, and he was so ahead of him time. That is why his lyrics live on for so many generations,” said Moss.
Mercer created the soundtrack of a generation, including iconic hits like “Hooray for Hollywood,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and the Academy Award-winning “Moon River” from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
“We’re trying to tell his story with the music as much as possible. We will kind of go a bit more in depth and sharing anecdotes and stories of his life that kind of weave the songs together and hopefully make them make even a little bit more sense in the context of his music, his lyrics and his life as a whole,” said Orrico.
Visit tybeeposttheater.org to learn more about the Tybee Island show.
Visit plantriverside.com/district-live to learn more about the District Live shows.