• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Theatre plans tribute to Duke Ellington’s music, singers

Returning to the Woodford Theatre to direct “The Duke, The Music, The Women” (A Tribute to Duke Ellington) allows Lexington playwright Cathy Rawlings to rekindle her love for the jazz age – and its music. “The songs are just absolutely beautiful of course, but what Ellington song isn’t,” asks Rawlings, who has crafted a musical that tells the story of the female singers hired by Ellington to perform with his band during the Harlem Renaissance. “The Duke, The Music, The Women” delves into their stories much more deeply than what audiences experienced while being entertained by “Sophisticated Ladies” on Broadway. That musical celebrated the songs of Ellington, but didn’t really tell the story of why female singers were hired to perform with his band. “There’s more to (this story) than singing and dancing,” says Rawlings. Her musical debuted at Lexington’s Lyric Theatre in 2010, and continues to evolve as she strives to tell an important American story in an entertaining way. “When (someone) goes to the theater,” says Rawlings, “they should leave away with something that they didn’t come there with.” Upcoming performances of “The Duke, The Music, The Women” at the Woodford Theatre will feature more music and additional dance numbers celebrating the jazz age. “What people are going to see in this show is that era. And the way the dance was danced by this culture, in that era,” says Woodford Theatre artistic director Trish Clark. Rawlings, who directed “Ain’t Misbehavin’” last season, says she’s excited about returning to the Woodford Theatre where she and choreographer William Parris will once again create a musical that celebrates the jazz age for audience seated in an intimate space. The Lexington native says she cannot remember a time in her life when she did not love jazz and its rich history. So it frustrates her whenever someone tells her they don’t know about The Duke or his musical legacy. “And his music is still alive today. It’s still alive today,” says Rawlings. “…It’s the universal language – music is.” She can’t read a musical note, but says, “I just feel it.” Weekend performances of “The Duke, The Music, The Women” begin May 19 to 21, with additional performances May 26 to 28 and June 2 to 4. Friday and Saturday night performances begin at 8, with 2 o’clock matinees on Sundays. For tickets ($13 for students and $20 for adults) visit woodfordtheatre.com or call 873-0648.

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