For many years, Seattle audiences guffawed to the chorale spoofery running amok in concerts by the Washingtonians, a group created and run by Seattle superstar composer and lyricist Scott Warrender (“Das Barbecu”). After too many years and too much laughter, Warrender, in tandem with Showtunes, is bringing them out of the closet in The Washingtonians! Songs We Know for 2 performances at Benroya Hall. Warrender was lured to his cellphone for this interview. If you like it, he gave it. If you don’t it, was ghosted by Marni Nixon.
On The Roots of the Washingtonians:
I’ve always been torn between the worlds of choral music and musical theatre. I have always thought there was a hybrid in there somewhere for me. I have all these old choral albums of Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians (DEH note: During the 1940s and early 1950s, Waring and His Pennsylvanians produced a string of hits, selling millions of records. A few of his many choral hits include Sleep, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Button Up Your Overcoat, White Christmas, Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, and Dancing in the Dark. The group was around later as The Young Pennsylvanians until Waring’s death in 1984). Fred had fantastic skills as a classical musician, but his pop side really appealed to the masses.
So one day it just popped into my mind: the Washingtonians. It just seemed to fit, and I got together a group of about 25 people and we did a little concert, someplace, I don’t even know where, and we did a whole mixture of odds and ends. And then about 6 months later, the group went to about 45 or 50 people, and we started to do a lot more funnier things, and I started writing things that were kind of tongue in cheek and funny, and the audiences really glommed onto that. And I started realizing there were lots of great choral groups out there doing the classics, and even though we really loved it, there weren’t a lot of groups out there doing the kind of weird, goofy music that I was writing and, because I was writing it, the songs were unique to us.
That’s kind of where it began. And every time we did a concert I realized a little more who we were and who we weren’t.
What is the tie-in with Showtunes?
I musical directed, the first show that Showtunes produced, Anyone Can Whistle. And later Sail Away. Many Seattle performers have worked with both groups. I write show tunes. How much more connected could we be?
What’s on the musical menu at the event?
Really favorites. Tried and true material.
We are doing our Washingtonian’s Theme Song that everybody loves, a beautiful Irish blessing the late Todd Moeller wrote, one of the first songs we ever learned, which is one of our favorites and probably our only serious song in the show.
We’re doing our Door Prize, Jackie deShannon’s Put A Little Love in Your Heart, and David Koch will lead Billy Goats and Bumble Bees.
There is also a hilarious number that Kevin Hadley originally came up with, Ten Steps to Musical Theatre, which draws an audience member onstage for the fun. I’m reticent to tell you more, because it ruins the joke.
We have a five-member band, the King Counties, led by Kathy Sestrap our musical director. Eric Chappel, our great fiddle player, is coming up from Santa Fe to play the show.
How was it going back to the Washingtonian’s after 13 years?
I kind of fell back into it. There were some things that I forgot, the organizational things, the things that are more difficult. But the choir is amazing, and about everyone in the show is contributing something else. It’s much more like a theatre show than a choir performance, lots of different moving pieces. All we could get onstage is 76 singers, plus the musicians and five actors.
I hope that our old fans turn out, and we make a lot more new fans in these performances.
The Washingtonians! Songs We Know runs December 5 at 8pm and December 6 at 2pm at Benaroya Hall (200 University Street in Downtown Seattle) in the Nordstrom Recital Hall. Go to seattlesymphony.org for tickets and more reservations.