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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

KPAC's 'Art of Cole Porter' Meets Its Match at the McNay

Remember the kid in elementary school, maybe junior high (I'm showing my age), who always sat in class drawing pictures? I recall those people and how I wondered what in the world they were going to do with their lives. Sure, I wished I could draw like they did, but I always knew that if I were to make anything of myself I needed to pay attention in class and do my assignments.

I'm not complaining. My education was a good one and has provided me a decent and, more importantly, interesting life in music and radio. But I still wonder what ever came of the sketchers, the doodlers, the ones I pitied because they didn't do their math or diagram their sentences. They just kept drawing.

Fast forward 50-something years and I am so impressed by the sketches, many of them intricately detailed, colored with beautiful chalks, inks, and watercolors, which form an important part of the current exhibition at the McNay's Brown Gallery. The show is called "Broadway: 100 Years of Musical Theatre," and it shows off 40 or 50 of the hundreds (likely thousands) of pieces in the "Tobin Collection of Theatre Art."

Robert Tobin, an avid collector of theater art for most of his life, believed passionately that the costume and set designers should be regarded as artists, an elevation from the label of craftsman. A walk through the current McNay exhibition, and several previous opportunities I have had to look through the storage areas of the Tobin Collection, have convinced me that Mr. Tobin's recognition of the artistry of the countless creators of the Tobin's collection is spot on.


Credit Gift of Lisa Aronson TL2001.7.1 / The McNay
The McNay
Boris Aronson: Costume design for Little Joe in Cabin in the Sky ca. 1940 Crayon and gouache on paper

"Broadway: 100 Years of Musical Theatre" will hang at the McNay through June 18. Texas Public Radio's Nathan Cone saw this as an opportunity to reprise a locally produced radio series from 14 years ago, "The Art of American Popular Song," as a musical echo of the visual art at the McNay. I was thrilled at the opportunity to blow the dust off the popular song series, as was KPAC's Kathy Couser, with whom I co-wrote and co-produced the KPAC series.

The KPAC series will continue through June 11 with the original seven part series, growing it by one with the addition of a new episode which will follow the trail of theater-derived popular song from the first fifty years, which produced the appropriately named "Great American Songbook," through the second fifty years. That new program will echo many of the works in the McNay's current show, with special attention given to the work of Stephen Sondheim.

In the meanwhile, the weekly “Art of . . . “ series continues this week with "The Art of Cole Porter." The show will be prefaced with a look at intersections of Cole Porter and the art displayed at the McNay. The opportunities to follow the trail brings to light such interesting connections as the statement by dancer Gwen Verdon that she decided to become a dancer after seeing Fred Astaire, one who created both song and dance performances to Porter's music. Ms. Verdon is represented in the McNay show by a scene design by Rouben TerArutunian for the Robert Merrill show, "New Girl in Town," which featured Bob Fosse choreography designed for Verdon.

Credit Gift of the artist 2012.32.7 / The McNay
The McNay
Martin Pakledinaz: Costume design for Katharine in I Hate Men, Act I, in Kiss Me, Kate 1999 Graphite and colored pencil on paper

In some cases, there are direct connections between the McNay's show and Cole Porter. For example, there is a set design for "Anything Goes" and costume designs for the 1999 revival of "Kiss Me, Kate." When I look at the costume designs by Martin Pakledinaz, especially his “A Study of Kate,” I think back again to the drawings I would see on the desk of the kid next to me in fifth grade, wondering if he might have grown up to a career in theater design? Anything Goes!

James first introduced himself to KPAC listeners at midnight on April 8, 1993, presenting Dvorak's 7th Symphony played by the Cleveland Orchestra. Soon after, he became the regular overnight announcer on KPAC.