AMERICANA NOT DEAD YET!
Composer Jerome Kern said, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. Irving Berlin is American Music.” This understanding is precisely what Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley had when they conceived the all-Irving Berlin (fifty-five songs worth) revue I Love a Piano. The song and dance valentine for both Berlin and everything Americana is tied together by an upright piano’s journey – from a music shop in 1910 to a Summer Stock theater stage in the late 1950s. The framing device of the traveling piano is schmaltzy and old-fashioned, but director David Lamoureux utilizes the utmost of his triple-threat sextet, creative team, and production staff to deliver a fluid, expertly staged show honoring the work of Irving Berlin.
Musical Director/Conductor Daniel Thomas leads a terrific group of musicians from the Los Angeles Musicians Collective; crisp and tight on the lively numbers, graceful and relaxed during the softer ones. Julie Ferrin’s sound design is well balanced; the voices are clear, the band isn’t overpowering, and the tapping was well mic’d. Choreographer Kami Seymour’s work here is authentic to the period(s), respectful of the piece, and flashy when appropriate. The cast’s physical versatility is showcased through their Turkey Trot, Charleston, soft-shoe, tap-dance, and ballroom dancing. If that wasn’t enough, they also switch excellently from dancing alone, with a partner, and all together, sometimes all within the same song.
Aja Bell’s classy, fun, period-specific costumes flattered the form of every cast member. Even the depression-era, tattered wardrobe had an inspired messiness that complemented the performers. Jean Yves Tessier’s lighting was high on the red, white, and blue, but also full of detailed and dramatic lighting schemes that made the performers pop and glisten on stage. Chris Beyries’ set design was practical and elegant, functioning excellently on three levels: One, the cast could move smoothly up and down the stage using steps and ramps; two, the heavy props (including that piano) moved with ease under Prop Coordinator/Production Manager Terry Hanrahan’s handling and crew; and lastly, the musicians just behind the cast were heard well and silhouetted by an opaque curtain – never distracting but always present and supporting the production. Andrew Nagy’s projection design served the production well; the “Silent Movie” bit stood out with its inventive use of perspective and motion.
The weakness of the show is its tired through-line, a travelogue encompassing the turn of the century, the prohibition era, the depression, WWII, and life post-war which treats history in the same manner a grade-school pageant would. Certainly with the composer-lyricist’s vast catalogue (over 1500 songs worth) there is a fresh approach on Americana and Berlin that would not only be honoring to his legacy and entertaining to an audience, but illuminate something more deeply profound as well. As such, this revue doesn’t break new ground, but it is a highly energetic, slick, respectable production.
The performers dance, act, and gel together wonderfully, and watching them play off each other is frequently entertaining. Still, it is the most enchanting when their voices are in harmony. The showstopper of the revue is a madcap rendition of “Anything You Can Do”: Fashioned as an audition process that would drive directors batty, everyone competes with one another, whether it’s out-singing or out-dancing or out-acting the others. The number is continually building to a more hilarious and harmonically complex climax; it is the production at its finest, firing on all cylinders.
David Engel (George) plays the strong, leading man-type role throughout the piece; his exquisite baritone voice stands out as the best of the men. Jordan Blashaw (Jim) plays the young, more comedic role, and is at his funniest when singing “Oh How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning.” Eddie Korbich (Alex) has the older, boss-like characters, and shines with a superb soft-shoe during “Let’s Face The Music.” Cynthia Ferrer (Sadie) handled the more difficult roles of the jilted woman, the wronged woman, and the mourning wife; while she did a wonderful job playing those roles well, what was most special about her performance was her comedy; she drew the most laughs. Adrianna Lyons (Eileen) played an ingénue (one of two) and shared great chemistry with her partner Blashaw; she also was a magnetic, lively dancer. However, Gail Bennett (Ginger) played the other ingénue, and was just a step above the rest of the ensemble; her dancing was the sharpest, her singing was the finest, and her interpretation of the songs she sang were the most compelling.
While it is a pleasant, exuberant, well-executed diversion, 3-D Theatrical’s presentation of I Love A Piano is a dynamic, reverential tribute to the fantastic music of Mr. American Music himself, Irving Berlin.
photos by Isaac James Creative
I Love A Piano
3-D Theatrical at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton
scheduled to end on September 23, 2012
then plays at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center through September 30, 2012
for tickets visit http://www.3dtshows.com or call (714) 589-2770