March 17, 2002
By Patt Diroll; Ann Conway
The 18th annual STAGE (Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event) fund-raiser played to sold-out houses for its three performances, paying tribute to one of America's most prolific and popular lyricists, Johnny Mercer.
"Dream," the benefit for AIDS projects held last weekend at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the Cal State Los Angeles campus, featured the works of Mercer, who wrote more than 1,000 songs, received 18 Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars.
"Mercer knew how to write words for every composer's style. He could fit in with all of them, which is really a gift," said last year's honoree, Jerry Herman, who was in the audience at the Saturday night show along with longtime STAGE benefactors John Bowab, Jacque Mapes, Charles Pollock, Jonathan Kanes and Naomi Caryl. Bowab was awarded the 2002 STAGE Producers Award for his dedication to AIDS-related programs. Director David Galligan and musical conductor Ron Abel assembled a stellar roster of talent, which performed 34 Mercer classics such as "Dream" (Petula Clark, Rod McKuen and Margaret Whiting), "That Old Black Magic" (Loretta Devine), "Glow Worm" (Betty Garrett) and "Hooray for Hollywood" (Carole Cook). Only a few of the stars had ever met Mercer, who died in L.A. in 1976. Whiting, who serves as president of the Johnny Mercer Foundation, remembered him well. "We're working very hard to bring back the great ones like Mercer," she said. "Their music is the history of this country, and most young people have never even heard of them."
Other performers included Tyne Daly, Linda Purl, Sam Harris, Nancy Dussault, Franc D'Ambrosio, Davis Gaines, Jason Graae, Linda Michele, Sally Struthers, Bill Hutton, Jodi Stevens, Greg Poland and Kevin Chamberlin.