A Convergence of Legends at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre

Ron Larson, Oct 25, 2006

1927-The New York Stock Market soared toward the economic stratosphere. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and his New York Yankees, with a lineup called "The Murderer's Row," swept the World Series. Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo transatlantic flight. Vaudevillian Al Jolson appeared in "The Jazz Singer," the first feature-length talkie, and the Broadway musical, "Showboat," made its debut.

In that same year, the Wilshire Ebell Theater began its storied existence as a fixture of Southern California entertainment venues. Its debut event was the West Coast Premiere of Sigmund Romberg's operetta, "The Desert Song." It was here that Judy Garland's first audition sent her on the path to stardom. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart made her final public appearance on the Ebell stage, not long before her legendary career ended tragically near Howland Island on her attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

Over the years, the Ebell Theatre's mahogany-paneled walls have echoed to the sounds of many different types of performances - concerts, dance, plays and lectures. In its nearly 80-year history, however, the Ebell has never featured a barbershop chorus until the Masters of Harmony, legendary member of the Barbershop Hall of Fame, appeared on its stage as part of a fund-raising effort by St. Vincent Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels is the largest privately funded meals program in the country. It serves 3,000 meals a day to the homebound and hungry throughout the Los Angeles area, regardless of age, illness, disability, race, religion, or ability to pay. Our appearance on the Ebell stage helped this fine organization raise funds to continue its charitable work.

This unique convergence of legendary, world-class organizations was made possible by the tireless background work of chorus member Bill Boeck, whose daughter's wedding reception was held on the premises at another time.

Walking through the Ebell Theater is like traveling back to simpler, gentler times. Room air conditioning consists of opening some of its many windows. Heating comes from floor-mounted, steam-powered radiant heaters. The elevator has old-fashioned folding metal gates, which must be opened and closed by hand. None of our members was seen using it, meaning a trudge up seemingly endless sets of stairs to our third-floor dressing and warm-up area, probably the steepest climb we have ever had at a performance venue ‑- and we had to do it four times!

Like the audience for the San Marino Concert Series last January, this audience probably had little collective experience with choral music in the barbershop style, especially as performed at a world-class level. Although the audience was relatively small, it quickly warmed up to us and was enthusiastically responsive from our opening number, "That's Entertainment," to our closing with, "Go Down, Moses," as well as to the songs of the highly talented ensemble VoCA and Hi-Fidelity quartet, who entertained between our two sets.

Those who witnessed and participated in this convergence of history, talent, and social outreach are now part of the Ebell Theatre's legend and lore.


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