Festival presents ‘Rodgers, Hammerstein’

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 17, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Tunes and lyrics will be familiar to the Natchez audience attending &uot;An Evening With Rodgers and Hammerstein&uot; at 8 p.m. today at Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center.

From the popular &uot;Oklahoma&uot; to the time-honored favorite &uot;South Pacific,&uot; the songs will bring back memories of the famous Broadway

stage shows, many of which were also successful movies. What will make tonight’s presentation of the famous duo’s music is the genius of William R. &uot;Bill&uot; Lewis, said Dr. David Blackburn, founding director of the Natchez Festival of Music, which presents the Rodgers and Hammerstein music as one of its main stage events for the 2004 season.

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&uot;This is something designed for the Natchez audience,&uot; Blackburn said. &uot;It is ingenious the way Bill Lewis has woven it all together. It’s one of the most enjoyable programs anyone could hear.&uot;

On Friday, Lewis was in rehearsal with some of the 20 or more performers who will take part. His hands skimming across the keyboard as he directed with nods and gestures, Lewis demonstrated some of the qualities Blackburn described.

&uot;Like this,&uot; Lewis said, as he showed a singer how to gesture during a song and bring more personality to the presentation. Lewis has arranged all the music for the evening’s presentation and has choreographed it, also.

The composer Richard Rodgers, who died in 1979, teamed up with Oscar Hammerstein II, a lyricist, for years, with the results becoming legendary in the history of American music.

However, each man also worked with others in the music world, and Lewis has arranged the program to begin with some of those collaborations that were not between Rodgers and Hammerstein but involved one or the other with different partners.

&uot;That is a beautiful way to begin the evening,&uot; Blackburn said.

&uot;I believe everyone will love the way he has put it together. I want to call everyone in Natchez and tell them to be here.&uot;

Lewis, a native of Denver, Colo., has had extensive experience in musical theater as well as in regional opera. With more than 50 musical theater credits to his name, he also is a sought-after pianist.

He has played for voice lessons with such distinguished teachers as Carlo Bergonzi, Luciano Pavarotti and Jerome Hines.

Further, Lewis has appeared in concert with Spiro Malas, J. Patrick Raftery, Cynthia Haymann, Maureen O’Flynn and Marcello Giordano and is the official pianist for several distinguished national

vocal competitions.