Their story reads a bit like one of those old Hollywood musicals they love so much: Midwestern sisters discover the magic of theater, decide to put on a show then head east to make a go of it professionally.
Natives of St. Louis, Missouri, Emily Grace Miller and Lacy Miller began performing for their neighbors as a sister act when they were 8 and 10 years old. Now in their 30s, the recent Charleston transplants have become a local success, selling out their first Piccolo Spoleto shows last year at Gage Hall. They return to the festival starting Thursday to perform their new show, “The Great American Songbook Live,” in the larger Charleston Museum Auditorium.
“We represent a vintage style and that's part of our mission, to keep the vintage music alive,” said Lacy, the younger sister and the duo’s stylist.
A $1,000 Lowcountry Quarterly Arts Grant from the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs will help pay the costs of renting the theater, two guest artists and give-away seats to veterans.
The show will feature tight harmonies, retro fashions and tap dancing. A special song for the sisters this year will be Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which likely was written on the composer's piano on display inside the Charleston Museum.
There are no fog machines or computer-controlled lighting in a Gracie & Lacy show, but there are costume changes — lots of them.
“This show will probably have 10 to 12 costumes in it,” said Gracie, who takes the lead on choreographing each performance. “We are very big on costumes, so every two minutes somebody comes out in another costume.”
Velcro and low zippers help keep the changes running smoothly.
Joining the sisters onstage at Piccolo will be Shi Johnson, a dancer with Mount Pleasant’s Elite Dance International Studio, who will perform a ballroom dance number with Gracie. The sisters selected Krista Cheatham as their featured “young songbook star,” and the local 10-year-old will sing the jazz standard “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”
“Ever since we've been here, we've been talent scouting,” Gracie said, noting the two have found a surprising number of young people interested in singing the songs of an older generation.
Having lived in Charleston for three years, the sisters are on the lookout for for a property that may work as a dinner theater, with room for stage performances and a dance floor for audience members.
“We're constantly keeping our eyes open and just putting down some roots here,” Lacy said. “The talent is here, and Charleston is growing.”
Dara McBride is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.