Eubie! returns with a new gospel of cool 

Class Acts

Eubie Blake, the iconic American jazz pianist, embodied cool. He was stylish, elegant, and charming — manners cultivated and perfected during the Harlem Renaissance. Duke Ellington is probably the best known class act of that time, but Blake wasn't far behind. And as Ellington performed for as wide an audience as he could find, Blake developed "products" that appealed directly to an African-American sensibility.

His most famous product was a 1921 Broadway musical, written with Noble Sissle, called Shuffle Along. It was written with the then-radical idea that money can be made targeting a black audience. Silent filmmaker Oscar Micheaux also worked and profited under the same assumption. Other Blake songs that have stood the test of time, and appealed universally, include "Love Will Find a Way," "I'm Just Wild About Harry," and, of course, "Charleston Rag." Most famous for his music, Blake was also renowned for his style.

It's a style that Art Gilliard, head of Art Forms and Theatre Concepts, is aiming for in his reprisal of Eubie!, part of the Piccolo Spoleto Theater series.

"Eubie! represents a time when people were just more fashionable," Gilliard says. "Even if they cleaned houses, they'd take the time to dress up to have a night on the town."

Eubie! was first staged at the Memminger Auditorium last fall as part of the MOJA Festival. It's a song and dance revue of Blake's most famous songs, and it boasts 10 cast members, same as last time. The cast, however, has changed a bit. Gilliard is pleased to brag, just a little, about two young standout performers: Tamara Sanders, a regular figure in the Charleston Symphony Orchestra's Gospel Choir, and Husain Williams, a graduate of Winthrop University.

"These two are going to blow people away," Gilliard says. "They both have proved to be bright stars. I'm lucky to have grabbed them before they moved on. This is just a stopping point for them."

Stylish, elegant, and cool.

Eubie would certainly be proud. —John Stoehr

Eubie! Piccolo Theatre Series $20-$25 90 mins.

May 22 at 3 p.m.; May 25-26 and 28 at 6 p.m.; May 29 at 8:30 p.m.; June 1-2 at 11 a.m. Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. (888) 374-2656

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