The Theater Barn: Irving Berlin has his way
NEW LEBANON, N.Y. -- The Theater Barn is dishing up a real charmer with "I Love a Piano," a smartly conceived look at the music of that grand master of American song, Irving Berlin.
Starting in the present with the discovery of a ratty old standup piano ("Imagine what stories this piano has to tell," one of the revue’s characters says), creators Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley trace the arc of Berlin’s songs over five decades, from a modest music shop in 1910 to a summer stock theater in the late 1950s and on to a finale featuring the show’s six-member ensemble in a spirited rendition of the show’s title song.
Rather than parade songs in dutiful fashion, Roderick and Berkeley package Berlin’s material as mini-musicals, each one saying something about the fabric of 20th century life in America and the simple, basic emotional impulses and needs that form our relationships.
Along the way, we go to the movies and Broadway, dance in speakeasies and ballrooms, follow Army draftees, and the women who wait for them, through World War II into the days of their homecoming and America’s adjustment to post-war life.
The cast is likeable and skillful -- more in the cases of Jerielle Morwitz and Shaun Rice. Morowitz brings a delightfully wry, knowing style to the stage. Rice, who was hobbled by the material in "Gutenberg! The Musical!" which preceded "I Love a Piano" at The Theater Barn, has a rich voice, shrewd comedic instincts and, like Morowitz, a stage-veteran savvy and know-how. The two are particularly charming in their "You’re Just in Love" duet from "Call Me Madam."
Separately and together, Stephanos Bacon and Teresa Whitt also are engaging, especially in their affecting "Blue Skies" duet.
And while Bacon does a fine straightforward job with "Puttin’ on the Ritz," given the song’s memorable treatment in Mel Brooks’ "Young Frankenstein," it’s impossible to listen to Bacon without chuckling -- just a bit.
Kimberley Suskind has a lovely way with Berlin’s songs. Maclain Dassatti, who too often pushes harder than necessary and whose vocal quality is the least consistent, nevertheless manages some nice moments, not the least of which is his lead singing in "How Deep is the Ocean."
Like the piano at the center of this revue, Berlin’s songs have stories to tell -- personal stories about love, loss, relationships, patriotism, how we work, how we play, how we live. Nice!
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