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Mercer Songwriters Project Returns to Northwestern

The Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project returns to Northwestern University's Evanston campus for the third consecutive year Aug. 9 through 16.

The project is part of Northwestern's Summer Music Theatre Festival 2008 and is co-sponsored by the Johnny Mercer Foundation and the University's American Music Theatre Project. It will conclude with three special events that will be open to the public. The first is a free Aug. 14 afternoon lecture/demonstration led by Michael Kerker, music theatre director for The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). The other two are ticketed events: an Aug. 15 Songwriters Showcase and an Aug. 16 Johnny Mercer Celebration Concert headlined by Tony Award-winning actress and Grammy-nominated vocalist Heather Headley ("The Lion King," "Aida").

Preceding these public events is a weeklong educational program designed for songwriters and songwriting teams aged 18 to 30 from all popular music genres. Featuring some of America's most prominent songwriters and singers serving as faculty for master classes and workshops, they will work in the tradition of the legendary Johnny Mercer.

A master of the American song, Mercer composed such classics as "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Accentuate The Positive" and "That Old Black Magic." Throughout his career, he was dedicated to the development of young songwriters and singers, discovering and nurturing artists, including Margaret Whiting, Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra and Nat "King" Cole.

The visiting faculty for this year's program includes Craig Carnelia, Andrew Lippa and Lari White.

Carnelia wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical "Sweet Smell of Success" and contributed four songs to Studs Terkel's revue "Working."

Andrew Lippa wrote the book, music and lyrics for the off-Broadway hit "The Wild Party." He also contributed several new songs to the Broadway version of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" and wrote the music and lyrics for "Asphalt Beach," the third production of Northwestern's American Music Theatre Project.

Nashville recording artist Lari White received three Grammy Awards for best Southern Gospel and a Gold Album. She made her Broadway debut in spring 2006 in "Ring of Fire." White recently made music history as the first female producer of a male superstar by producing Toby Keith's platinum album, "White Trash with Money."

Participants for this year's program include 14 emerging songwriters from across the country representing the worlds of music theatre, pop, folk and country: Drew Bowen (Durham, N.C.); Will Buck (Lake Forest, Ill.); Sabrina Chapadijev (Elk Grove, Ill.); Kevin Corcoran (Stafford, N.H.); Christopher Dimond (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Lindsay Drew (Vadnais Heights, Minn.); Michael Kooman (Altoona, Pa.); Phoebe Kreutz (New York, N.Y.), Olivia Lilley (Winfield, Ill.); Mike Mentzer (Northbrook, Ill.); Orlando Morales (Renton, Wash.); Will Reynolds (Western Springs, Ill.); Cris Wo (Glendale, Ariz.); and Bill Yanesh (Wickliffe, Ohio).

The following Mercer celebration events will be open to the public. They will be held on the Evanston campus at the Josephine Louis Theatre, 20 Arts Circle Drive, or Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, as noted below:

Michael Kerker, music theatre director of ASCAP, will host a lecture/demonstration on the life of one of America's major songwriters during "The Legacy of Johnny Mercer" at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, at the Josephine Louis Theatre. The panelists will include composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa and Nashville recording artist Lari White. Admission is free with a reservation, which can be made by phoning (847) 491-7282.

• The Songwriters Showcase, 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15, at the Louis Theatre is an annual celebration of the American song. Composers and lyricists from across the country will present an evening of original music. Single tickets are $15 for the general public, senior citizens and Northwestern faculty, staff and students and $10 for Summer Music Theatre 2008 Festival subscribers.

• A special one-night-only performance of Broadway favorites by Tony Award-winning guest artist Heather Headley ("The Lion King," "Aida") will be a highlight of the Johnny Mercer Celebration Concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The evening will include performances by Andrew Lippa, Lari White, Chicago cabaret duo Beckie Menzie and Tom Michael, as well as students of the Northwestern Music Theatre Program. Tickets are $30 for the general public, Summer Music Theatre Festival subscribers, senior citizens and Northwestern faculty, staff and students. (For more information on the Johnny Mercer Foundation, visit

To order single or group tickets for upcoming productions by phone, call the Theatre and Interpretation Center Box Office at (847) 491-7282. Online ticket sales are available at

Photo by Michelle Teeter.

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