Some arrived in vintage cars to set the mood
"What's the password Mac?"
There's a party going inside!
"Keep things friendly! Know what I mean?"
good as was the first Ragtime Speakeasy (October, 2011), the one
just held – on April 4, 2013 – was even better, with
fantastic music from “Ginger Ale and His Sparklers”
(Brad Kay and Those Syncopating Songbirds), wild antics from a
cast of raffish characters, and a general air of breezy fun. The
event also helped raise more than $2,000 to help produce RagFest
2013, and for one night, the Muckenthaler Cultural Center reverberated
with vibes sympathetic to its origins – the mansion was
built in the mid-1920s.
For all Muck and RagFest patrons, the evening really began on
the east façade of the Muckenthaler Mansion, where gorgeous
restored vintage automobiles lined the Palm Court driveway. Guests
toddled up to the door, tapped on it, and were greeted through
a small grate with the question “What’s the password?”
Those who said “orange juice” were admitted in a jiffy.
Beautiful banners hailed the “Golden Scarab Club”
while also touting RagFest and the festival’s sponsors,
the Muckenthaler and Friends of Jazz. In keeping with the ’20s
Egyptian theme, the Muck mansion was also beautifully decorated
with wonderful Egyptian artifacts. Dr. Al K. Holic was on hand,
too, to offer Prohibition-era refreshments – referred to
as “prescriptions for alcohol” – to anyone on
Many of the guests showed up in elegant ’20s finery, the
women in vintage dresses, feathers and headbands typical of Roaring
Twenties flappers, the men in dark suits, derbies, and lapel flowers.
The various personas included pretty boys, matrons, gangsters
and gamblers, augmented by the Muck’s cast of bouncers and
cigarette girls. Collectively, they brought to life the era of
bathtub gin, all-night shindigs and wild, uninhibited syncopated
Patrons found a beautiful bar and hors d’oeuvres plus a
casino with fully manned craps and blackjack tables. The center
of excitement, though, was The Gallery. RagFest founding artistic
director Eric “Rags” Marchese welcomed the crowd,
then introduced the evening’s musical talent, Brad Kay and
Those Syncopating Songbirds – aka Ginger Ale & His Sparklers.
Over the course of the next two hours, the group and its various
individuals dazzled us with a total of 22 selections. The bulk
of these were from the ’20s, but we also heard two pieces
from 1930 plus “I Fall in Love When You Kiss Me,”
a 2012 original by Suzy Williams, which she sparklingly performed.
Brad Kay ably led his entourage, which featured Ms. Williams,
Ms. Marea Boylan, Ms. Mikal Sandoval, Mr. David Barlia, Mr. Dan
Weinstein and Mr. Oliver Steinberg.
Among the evening’s other musical highlights: Duke Ellington’s
“Jubilee Stomp” (1928); Marea Boylan’s performances
of “Stumbling” (Zez Confrey, 1922) and Cole Porter’s
“Two Little Babes in the Woods” (1928); Suzy Williams’
killer renditions of “He Loves and She Loves” (George
and Ira Gershwin, 1927) and “If Your Kisses Can’t
Hold the Man You Love” (Ellis and Yellen, 1930); Mikal Sandoval’s
solos of “Keeping the Wolf Away From the Door” (Dubin
and Burke, 1929), “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”
(from Kern & Hammerstein’s 1927 Broadway show “Show
Boat”) and “If I Had a Talking Picture of You”
(DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, 1929); and David Barlia’s
and Brad Kay’s version of “Magnolia” (DeSylva,
Brown and Henderson, 1927).
The evening’s great instrumentals included Duke Ellington’s
1928 masterpiece “Black Beauty” and Sugar Underwood’s
“Dew Drop Alley Stomp” (1927), played by Brad as a
killer piano solo. Dan Weinstein ably took over on “Big
Butter and Egg Man” (Louis Armstrong and Ralph Venables,
1926), which featured Marea on vocals, and proved himself, selection
after selection, as a master of numerous period instruments and
the appropriate style of performance. In fact, that could be said
of the entire Brad Kay assembly, who will be back later this year
for RagFest, featured on the Main Stage (outdoor amphitheater).
Among the evening’s comical antics, the bodyguards of Zoot
“Fingers” Velasco, the notorious crime boss of Fullerton’s
underworld, wished him a happy birthday by opening up a huge,
life-size sarcophagus to introduce torch singer “The Torch”
(Monette Velasco), who sang “Our Love is Here to Stay”
in a Marilyn Monroe-Jessica Rabbit style. Her poison lipstick
made fatal her passionate kiss of Fingers, who choked and keeled
over in front of the stunned yet amused audience. Not even Dr.
Holic could revive Fingers, who had to be carried off by his thugs
– and leaving The Torch as Fullerton’s new lady crime
boss! She inaugurated her rein of whimsy with the proclamation,
“Fullerton is now mine! Play on, Mr. Kay!”
The attendees of this year’s Speakeasy also experienced
the excitement of a full-fledged police raid. Actual police officers
from the Fullerton Police Department, assisted by an actor, shined
flashlights in guests’ faces, questioning them about the
content of their coffee mugs. It was just one of the many lighthearted,
memorable moments of a wonderfully memorable Ragtime Speakeasy