Call Answered: Dawn Derow: "My Ship: The Songs of 1941" at The Laurie Beechman Theatre
We live in some very harrowing, chaotic times. In 1941, we lived in similar times as we went to Germany to fight WWII. Today, like in 1941, we are constantly looking for ways to be lifted up and escape this horror. That is why when I heard about Dawn Derow's My Ship: The Songs of 1941, I knew this was an interview that needed to be conducted. As you will see below, the description of the show is perfect for these challenging times we live in.
"My Ship: The Songs of 1941 is comprised songs composed and published in 1941," wrote Dawn. "76 years ago these songs were comforting the hearts and minds of women from that time: young brides married to soldiers headed off to fight in WWII, conventional housewives raising children alone, factory workers like “Rosie the Riveter,” and the entertainers passionately at work to raise the morale of AMERICA through this beautiful music."
AMERICA needs to be raised up today because that scoundrel in the White House is undoing all the progress this great nation has made. So this is the perfect time for Dawn's show to make a return to The Laurie Beechman Theatre.
My Ship: The Songs of 1941 will return to The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside the basement of the West Bank Cafe) on Tuesday, February 6 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I began performing at a very young age - I play "Gretel" in The Sound of Music when I was eight years old in community theater in Cape Cod, MA. From there I was always energized by dancing, singing and acting. In high school I started taking classical voice lessons and from there, was bitten by the opera bug. I wanted to be an opera singer, so I went to the Boston Conservatory to study voice. I think I'm inspired by the idea my body is the instrument and I can tell a story with my voice. I'm inspired by creating a moment of entertainment.
2. On February 6, you’re returning to The Laurie Beechman Theatre with your Cabaret show MY SHIP~Songs From 1941. What are you looking forward to most about this return engagement? The Laurie Beechman is a wonderful space to perform! Abby Judd is a brilliant lighting and sound designer, and Kenny Bell runs a friendly establishment for my guests and fans, making sure they enjoy their experience. I love doing sound check with "MY CREW" - Ian Herman on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass, Daniel Glass on drums my fabulous director Jeff Harnar- they’re a very supportive and talented team. During sound check we are getting the ship "ready to set sail." It helps me loosen up, and I get really excited knowing I get to take this journey I've created again.
3. How did you initially come up with this show? I was working with Barry Levitt, and through him I was asked to do a show for CABARETFEST in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Patricia Fitzpatrick has been running it for the past three years. Barry and I had done a five song set during their brunch show back in June 2015, so this time we were asked to perform a full cabaret show, set in the 1940's. I had fallen in love with the song “My Ship,” by Kurt Weill & Ira Gershwin. I was listening to Anita O'Day's recording of it. From there, Barry and I started looking at the rest of that year...I just connected to the material. I brought on Jeff Harnar to help us put it all together. The three of us conceived, wrote and arranged the show, which debuted June 2, 2017. We did a mini open dress rehearsal in NYC before Barry and I jumped in my car and drove to Cape Cod. After our successful appearance at the Crown & Anchor we booked four dates at the Laurie Beechman for the fall.
4. What have you learned from your previous engagements of performing the show that will inform the upcoming run? Every time I run the show the flow of songs and material gets a little tighter...or smoother, and I seem to have a lot of "favorite parts" for different reasons. I should mention this show "MY SHIP~songs from 1941" exists and lives on despite the passing of our dear beloved Barry Levitt. So part of what I've learned and what fuels me every time I get on that stage is that life if fleeting, and we as artists and musicians are given a gift - so we better use the gifts before our time is up. Barry collapsed of cardiac arrest moments after we completed our sound check on Sept 19th, opening night. We were all standing right there with him when he fell to the floor. Myself and two others helped perform CPR compressions until the medics came. He was taken to the hospital and two days later he was gone. So what have I learned? That you just never know when it's your turn to go. But I'm thankful I was with the Maestro - as traumatic as it was for all of us to witness in that room, Barry wasn’t out on the streets of NYC or alone. He was surrounded by people that knew him for years and loved him. He died doing what he loves, and not many people can say that, or exit that way. Barry went out on Barry’s terms and we were all there as his angelic intervention.
5. How do you feel today's society reflects what was going on in 1941? Women in this country are still fighting their fight, and dealing with assault and inequality. I try to do my best in inspiring and lifting woman up. Like today I was out marching for women's rights. We need to encourage more woman to stand up, vote and even run for office. It's time. On a lighter note, the music of that time still lives on, and that's powerful.
6. How do you think we've changed for the better and what do you think is the same? I'm not sure I could summarize this in a short answer. We've evolved in so many ways, and nothing is the same.
7. How do you think you would have fared in 1941 USA? Do you think you would have pursued music at that time or possibly a different career? That's a fun thought! If I lived here in Manhattan, maybe I would have been in the fashion industry. I feel drawn to the fashion of that era and the hair styles too. I lean more towards the entertainers of that era so I’m sure I'd be dancing and singing. And once the war started I would have joined the riveters.
8. How did you choose which songs from that time you wanted to perform? There were a few songs I already knew that were big hits like “At Last,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Skylark.” “Blues in the Night” was another big hit that year, and I was excited to create an arrangement of it for the show, and we did. All the arrangements were created by Barry Levitt….For the rest you will just have to come to the show and see for yourself!
9. Since the show is called My Ship, if you built yourself a boat what would you name it and where would you sail to? It would be a big sail boat, with 8-10 crew members to do all the work, ‘cause I'm not a sailor, but I love boats. I love being on the water. I would have to name it something Italian. Maybe "Ciao Alba" (Alba is Dawn in Italian) - and we'd sail the Mediterranean of course!
10. If you could bring 4 people (living or dead) with you on your boat who would you choose to be a passenger with you? Only 4! That's not enough for my boat party! So since you've asked me a few hypothetical - hard to image - questions - I'm gonna invite all dead people. Bring these souls back for my party aboard my ship: Cole Porter, naturally-a talent, icon, musical genius and socialite; my grandmother Nan, whose name was Victoria. She use to be a “Roxyette” dancer in 1931 before they became the Rockettes. I get a lot of my performance bug and genetics from her. Robin Williams, because he was/is one of my favorite comedians. I would want Barry Levitt to come back for this cruise. He would have been so proud of what we've done with MY SHIP. I can see it now: Barry, Cole and Robin would probably write some ingenious piece of musical theater together, and I would sing along.
More on Dawn:
Dawn Derow is a BISTRO & MAC Award winning singer. A Cape Cod New Yorker, Dawn grew up in Eastham, MA and began actively pursuing her performance career. She graduated from Boston Conservatory with a degree in Music; Vocal Performance & Opera, moved to NYC and for more than 15 years performed in various clubs such as The Metropolitan Room, Core Club, Birdland, The Cutting Room, the Friar's Club, Joe's Pub, and even Carnegie Hall.
Dawn won a 2015 MAC Award for her work in the duo show REVOLUTION with Kathleen France. Her album MUSIC 4 TWO with Sean Harkness got her a 2015 MAC award nomination for album of the year and displayed her formidable Opera singing chops with LEGIT: A Classical Cabaret, winning the 2016 BISTRO Award for Outstanding Vocalist.
After years of working as a guest entertainer on cruise ships, performing in musicals & concerts, Dawn is the type of songstress that can sing a Puccini aria followed by a bluesy rendition of "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)" and seamlessly move from one style to another.