Swinging into the Arden Theatre on Monday, June 27, 2016 is The Summer Club. This group pays homage to years gone past and this particular event involves the extraordinary talent of Jeffrey Coon, Fran Prisco and JP Dunphy, as well as several special guests who will round out this event. The Summer Club celebrates the era of Big Band, and it is a night full of singing, tuxedo attired performers and above all a fun filled evening of entertainment.
I had the opportunity to talk to one of the founding members of this group, Jeffrey Coon. Coon is always full of enthusiasm and passion every time I speak with him about The Summer Club. I spoke with Coon about what people can expect from the show at the Arden, where he finds his inspiration in putting a show like this together and why performing with The Summer Club at the Arden has special meaning for him.
Kelli Curtin: For people who are getting to see The Summer Club for the first time, what can they expect?
Jeffrey Coon: They should come and expect a really good time. First and foremost this group cares most about the relationship we have with each other onstage and engaging the audience with our performances. We really have a great time performing this music, and we want the audience to have just as much fun experiencing it.
The Summer Club is really a throwback show. When I relisten to the people and the music that is our inspiration, such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, I realized that what they are all doing is having a good time performing. They seem to be part of something together, and had a great rapport onstage. What they did is create an environment like they were having a party onstage, and that is what we try to do in our events. The great thing about the Rat Pack and The Summer Club is that the event is never the same. Even though some of the music is the same, our banter and energy is always different.
Kelli: Is there a theme to your show at the Arden? Could you give me an idea of some of the songs people will hear?
Jeff: We do not really have a theme. We tried to have themes the first year we did these shows, and it seemed too gimmicky. The Summer Club is about a celebration of this type of music, and we perform the music that has meaning to us, which is a throwback to the Rat Pack. The audience is definitely part of the show without there being audience participation. We really want the people coming to see us to feel part of the celebration of the music.
Some of the songs people will hear are “Come Fly with Me,” “Me and My Shadow,” “Feeling Good” and “Over the Rainbow.” We have a great group performing at the Arden, and since this is our Philly debut we are really excited about it. In addition to myself, Fran [Prisco] and JP [Dunphy,] we also have special guests. This group comprises Michael Philip O’Brien, Tony Braithwaite, Rachel Brennan, Elena Camp, Rachel Camp and Kristine Fraelich.
Kelli: I have heard a lot of people talk about your upcoming show. Does performing at the Arden with The Summer Club have personal meaning for you?
Jeff: Yes, there are many reasons why doing this show at the Arden has meaning for me. First, last year I received a grant from the Independence Foundation, and used some of this grant to build up our library of songs. I applied for this grand because Terry [Nolen] and Matt [Decker] advised me to do so. Without their suggestion and advice we would not be where we are today. In addition, Terry approached me a while ago and asked if we would be interested in doing The Summer Club at the Arden. When he approached me he explained that the Arden is always interested in finding ways to nurture artists in Philly.
The Arden Theatre has personal meaning for me because it is the place that I have worked the longest. Terry and Amy [Murphy] are mentors of mine – they are friends as well as professional colleagues whose opinions I value. Being able to perform The Summer Club at the Arden Theatre is a big deal for us.
Kelli: What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing this show?
Jeff: A friend of mine, Will Connell, came to see us last year and he said, “This is a show I did not know I needed to see until I saw it.” I really would like audiences to come away after seeing our show and think that this is unlike anything I have seen before.
A show like The Summer Club is difficult to do, it is tough to sustain a show like this because it is full of energy and personality. All of us involved care about maintaining this type of performance. There is a sense of camaraderie between all of us onstage. In addition, we have a 17-piece band who are very important to us. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the people playing behind us in these shows.
Kelli: Where do you find your inspiration in putting a show like this together?
Jeff: I am an old soul, I am influenced by Sinatra and all of the Rat Pack. I also find inspiration from Johnny Carson. Carson had a way of making every show feel like an event and make it feel special. There was no pretense about Carson, people had a sense that he was just a Midwestern guy. Carson had the ability to make his guest and the audience feel comfortable, and he came across as a guy that everyone thought that they knew him on some level. I also find inspiration from Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel who are funny and smart.
Also, Sammy Davis Jr., who I feel was the greatest entertainer who ever lived. He had a thousand megawatt charisma. He was always gracious to his audiences. In addition, I also admire Harry Connick, Jr., who I respect as a musician. He seems to have a respect for the music in the same way the Fran, JP and I do. People that watch him can see his deep love with the music that inspires him.
Kelli: Anything you would like to add?
Jeff: Just that we are really excited for this show. We are really looking forward to performing at the Arden and with the audience there. However, I would encourage people to get tickets ASAP because tickets are selling quickly.
The Summer Club will be performing at the Arden Theatre on Monday, June 27, 2016. For more information about this event visit the Arden’s website at www.ardentheatre.org or call the box office at 215-922-1122. For more information about The Summer Club visit their website at www.summerclubshows.com.
Photos courtesy of The Summer Club.
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram