Story goes that the iconic rockabilly tune “Blue Suede Shoes,” popularized by Elvis Presley, was written by Carl Perkins in 1955 when, during a concert, he overheard an audience member scolding a dance partner for scuffing up his fancy footwear.
Although that origin story is disputed, tales of this sort are just the kind of context Lynnea Barry hopes to provide when she emcees her showcase Be-Bop-A-Lula: Rockin’ through the `50s, June 11 through the 13 at The Shedd.
The show features a long list of hits from throughout the `50s and early `60s in styles ranging from country to doo-wop, performed by some of The Shedd’s most well-known voices like Bill Hulings, Siri Vik and Tracy Williams Tooze.
It’s also only the third time that stage lights have illuminated an in-house production at the Jaqua Concert Hall since the pandemic, made possible by Lane County COVID-19 safety restrictions easing somewhat throughout the spring.
A veteran performer in her own right, Barry added acting as artistic director for the show in which she also performs, to her day job as corporate relations manager at The Shedd.
Through collaboration, she developed the setlist, prioritizing variety in style but also seeking to reflect the tremendous social change at the time with social justice classics like “A Change is Gonna Come” from the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke, among many others.
“The song selection: It’s fun, but it was a process,” Barry says. “I was going through so much material figuring out what was going to be doable.”
There’s also some Motown flair in the show, she says, as well as country hits, like “The Tennessee Waltz,” a 1950 hit for Patti Page written by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King.
This era is also, of course, rock ‘n’ roll’s first golden age, so expect plenty of that as well.
Singing “Blue Suede Shoes,” among others, is baritone Bill Hulings, a familiar face for Shedd audiences.
Hulings says that although he’s too young to remember when this music topped the charts, he does remember hearing well-known radio DJ Casey Kasem playing these songs on his radio show every Sunday morning.
“That’s when I first heard ‘Rockin’ Robin,’ ‘Be-Bop-a-Lula,’ Chubby Checker and the rest,” Hulings adds in an email. “The music is a strong part of my childhood.”
He continues, “In rehearsal, I was surprised at how I couldn’t stop dancing while singing the songs. It’s no wonder they wouldn’t show Elvis from the waist down.”
For her part, the theatrical jazz singer Siri Vik has a new appreciation for how truly great the singers were from that time.
While learning the music, she thought, “How many times have I heard these tunes?”
She says, “It all sounds so easy, humming along in the car. But actually, working the song into my own voice, it’s another thing altogether. It makes you realize these are timeless records for a reason. It’s a sharp learning curve, but I love that discovery.”
Backing up the vocalists live on stage will be the show’s musical director Keri Davis on piano, Don Elkington on drums, Steve Arriola on guitar and Nathan Waddell on electric bass. Rounding out the arrangements will be Jonathan Corona playing various reed instruments and Della Davies on violin.
Barry says she hopes Be-Bop-A-Lula will be first in a series of concerts showcasing music from the era, and that the COVID shutdown was a “time to develop what we do, better.”
Other post-pandemic initiatives from the downtown arts organization may include a Mariachi music festival, she says.
Be-Bop-A-Lula: Rockin’ through the `50s is 7:30 pm Friday and Saturday June 11 and 12, with a 3 pm matinee on Sunday June 13 in the Jaqua Concert Hall at The Shedd Institute for the Arts. Tickets range from $14.50 for students to $30; all-ages. Attendance is limited and audience masking is required.