On a magical night — Oscar night in 1952 — the sounds of Hoagy Carmichael’s smooth song stylings fill the tiny Stardust Super Club in Bloomington, Ind. The joint is named for one of Carmichael’s biggest tunes, and the owners have a special connection to the Oscar-nominated superstar. Tony was a close pal, back in the day, and his wife Millie was the old flame that Tony swept away from Carmichael, just before his ascent to stardom. This is the opening to Stardust Super Club, currently onstage at Southern Applachian Repertory Theatre.
Over time, they’ve all remained close, singing Carmichael’s songs and cherishing his fame from afar. It is a family affair too, as Joey, their son and soon-to-be college grad, croons and swoons on the stage of the family business. Millie longs to see Joey take charge, so she and Tony can travel the country, but the plans are certain to be altered on this magical night of friends, family and heart-felt fun.
Stephen T. Ware makes his first appearance at SART. As Tony, he plays the master of his domain with charm and flair. Liz Aiello dazzles the crowd as Millie, the heart and soul of the show. Cameron Gregg, the son of Aiello and director Bill Gregg, shines as the starry-eyed Joey.
Adding charm to the evening are Emma, played with giddy exuberance by Grace Williams, and the more acerbic Helen, played by the pitch-perfect Chelsey Gaddy. The two young songbirds work at the club and are as good as part of the family. Both actresses keep the mood lively and light throughout.
Throughout the evening the audience is reminded of classic tunes like “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “Skylark,” and the songs that would later be made even more famous by other musicians: “Georgia” (Ray Charles) and “Stardust” (Willie Nelson.)
Although Hoagy Carmichael is far from a household name today, he was the epitome of suave, sophisticated style in the 1940s and ’50s. So much so that Ian Fleming, captivated by Carmichael, supposedly created superspy James Bond in the singer’s image.
For a few hours, SART transports its audience back to the mood of the old smoky clubs, with clinking silverware and smooth-as-whisky crooners cradling the microphone while taking the gathered crowd a little nearer to the twinkling stardust in the night sky. The show itself is bound for something bigger: playwrights Mark Cabanis and Alan Bailey are using the SART production as a test run in advance of the show’s New York debut.
Stardust Supper Club runs through July 13, with performances at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday evenings; 2:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays. $22-$25.