Young crooner brings back oldies

By Shari Goldstein Stern

Back in the day, singers like Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee and Bob Hope were crooning songs including “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “The Very Thought of You,” and “Blue Moon” in supper clubs everywhere. Their work was written with passion by composers like Dorothy Fields and Harry Warren. Such were the 1930s in music.

Dorothy Fields and the brilliant Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” was another hit of the era. Dallas’ own crooner, Max J. Swarner (pictured above, right) will perform that romantic ballad along with other 1930s music at the Bath House Cultural Center this month. The well-recognized Swarner will take center stage in the hearts of patrons when he serenades at Echo Theatre’s “Her Song,” a supper club in the Bath House on White Rock Lake. A few of his other vocals will be, “You Oughta’ Be in Pictures,” and “Exactly Like You.”

Already a force in Dallas theater, in addition to many awards and much recognition, Swarner was named one of Dallas’ top male performers for his lead in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at Irving’s MainStage in 2011.

Swarner has appeared in more than 100 plays and musicals in the Dallas area. That goes back more than 20 years to his premiere at the age of four in “Aladdin” at Capers for Kids.

The acting bug bit hard when he was a seven-year-old seeing the National Broadway Tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” at Ft. Worth’s Bass Hall. “Seeing that show changed my life forever, and I knew while sitting in that theater that I had to do this for the rest of my life,” Swarner said.

Then, at nine, he played his first leading role in “The Music Man.”

“My greatest influence in life musically came from growing up in a church with a rich music program,” he said. “I was musically spoiled from a young age, hearing classical music with a full 50-piece orchestra every Sunday morning. There is simply nothing better!”

The triple-threat made his Northeast debut in the title role in Yeston/Kopit’s musical, “Phantom,” in Connecticut. According to the actor, “Playing the Phantom of the Opera in Yeston/Kopit’s musical was a perfect experience in every way. This version was written by Tony Award-winner Maury Yeston. It premiered at Theatre Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars in 1990. It is a beautiful piece that follows similar plot points to the Webber version, but has its own differences.”

One of Swarner’s goals is to star in, “The Phantom of the Opera,” one of his favorite shows and his “dream role.”

“Playing Tony in Garland Summer Musicals’ production of ‘West Side Story’ was another bucket-list role with an amazing production team and a full orchestra performing that glorious Bernstein/Sondheim score. Singing that music every night was heaven on earth.”

Swarner is thrilled and grateful to have worked with some of Dallas’ finest directors. Those have included Bruce R. Coleman, BJ Cleveland, Michael Serrecchia, Cheryl Denson and many more. He said, “I also had the honor of being directed by the late Jac Alder, Terry Dobson and René Moreno. Those men taught me so very much, and I miss them every single day.”

The singer describes his first performance with “Her Song” as a joyous experience. “I am working with the finest people on this production. The cast, crew, production staff is kind, humble and amazingly talented. What more could you ask for?”

In “Her Song” Swarner plays Montague Rose Rollins, one of the headliners of The Echo Room. He is a triple-threat performer who has history with all characters in the play.

“Her Song,” is a February tradition that serves as a great “date night” for Valentine’s Day. It will run this year from Friday, Feb. 9 through Saturday, Feb. 24. During the 1930s supper club-inspired show, food and craft cocktails are available on a cash basis.

Swarner is proud of having been born and raised in Lakewood and Dallas and enjoys living walking distance from White Rock Lake. He still lives in Lakewood today with his wife, actress Kim Borge Swarner. He attended White Rock Montessori and First Baptist Academy before graduating from SMU with a BA in voice. He says that he loves the energy in Dallas and plans to be here for a very long time.