There are few movers-and-shakers in the Tampa Bay arts scene quite like Paul Wilborn and wife Eugenie Bondurant. We at American Stage are lucky and thrilled to host their American Songbook Series and Mr. Wilborn was kind enough to answer five burning questions to help promote this weekend’s Skylark: The Songs of Hoagy Carmichael & Johnny Mercer.
Can you give us the Paul Wilborn and Eugenie Bondurant origin story?
A Los Angeles based Associated Press reporter (Paul) and a beautiful actor (Eugenie) are invited to the same party in LA in 2002. They are engaged six months later. In 2003, they move back to Tampa (Paul’s hometown) so Paul can become the Creative Industries Manager for new Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. Paul is asked by the Palladium Theater to do an American Songbook cabaret series. He tries out many female singers but doesn’t find the right match. Eugenie, who has never sung in public, takes over that role and quickly becomes the star of the show! When Paul is picked to be Executive Director of the Palladium, the cabaret series moves to American Stage.
You have been a great pioneer for cabaret in Tampa Bay, what do you think is so special about this particular genre of performance?
Cabaret is a marriage of music and theater. It’s not just a band playing songs. If we do our job right, the audience takes a journey with us, much like they do seeing a play. And I think in this digital, electronic world – there is a hunger for intimate live performance. That’s what we try to do. As a former journalist, I love telling stories. That’s why are shows are a mix of music and anecdotes. As for being a pioneer – we’ve built up a great following now, but being a pioneer meant playing to lots of small audiences early on.
There are probably some patrons who do not recognize Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer by name, as well as, others who look forward to being reintroduced to their work. What inspired you to pick these two artists and how would you describe them to the yet-to-be enlightened?
First, they wrote some really great songs together – Skylark, In The Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening, Lazybones, among others. But unlike most of the other great composers of that era, they weren’t immigrants who grew up in the big city. Johnny came from Savannah. Hoagy from rural Indiana. Their music conjures up images of the south, of small towns and rivers bathed in moonlight. Both were also singers and performers in their own right. And Hoagy’s son lived in St. Pete for a while and I got to know him – we produced a show with him at the Palladium. Finally, how can you go wrong with songs like “Georgia On My Mind,” and “Moon River?”
Over the season, we will hear you pay tribute to everyone from Bobby Short and Mabel Mercer to Nina Simone and Snoop Dog. What are you most looking forward to?
I’m having so much fun doing research for the “Drunken American Songbook Show” that’s coming up in May. I’ve got people sending me song suggestions. I want to pull from the 1920s to the current day. I love the classic songs – ‘You Go To My Head” and “I Get A Kick Out of You (“I get no kick from champagne…”) But there are so many more from the swing, R&B and rock era. And I am working on a swing arrangement of “Gin and Juice.” Got to have some Snoop in the mix. I think it’s going to be a really fun night. Hopefully, the band will stay sober through most of it.
There is no denying it can be difficult to be a working artist in Tampa Bay, what is your advice to the many young artists trying to make a go-of-it locally?
There are so many more ways to get your talent out there today than when I was in my 20s. You can get famous from anywhere. But one thing hasn’t changed – you’ve got to work at it. Put in the hours of practice. Be creative. Find good collaborators. Remember you are entertaining an audience and not just yourself.
*BONUS QUESTION* Any ‘Hunger Games’ scoop, or does President Snow have your sworn to secrecy?
Eugenie is doing a Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr promo leading up to the release called “The Tao of Tigris.” Look out for that and follow her @Eugbondurant. We’re flying to Los Angeles a few days after our American Stage shows to attend the big premier. She gets to walk the red carpet and I’m the guy no one cares about walking just behind her. And we’re going to do a local premier at Sundial on Sunday, Nov. 22.
Paul Wilborn and The Blue Roses star in Skylark: The Songs of Hoagy Carmichael & Johnny Mercer | November 6 & 7 at 8PM | November 8 at 6PM | Tickets $20 in advance, $24 at the door | Book Now