Monday, October 22, 2007

I Love a Piano

This was charming, a lovely way to spend Sunday afternoon, watching six talented performers sing and dance their way through this revue of more than 60 Irving Berlin songs. The staging at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts was simple, but the result was shimmering. It was like being transported back to another, more glamorous time, back before love songs had lyrics like “let’s get it on.” The romantic in me couldn’t help but love a show like this.

“I Love a Piano” follows the life of a 1910 upright piano with one broken key as it is bought and sold, abandoned and found again.  Starting in a music store, the piano moves through different settings and decades as a way of showcasing the songs. Using Berlin’s popular favorites as well as humorous lesser known compositions like “Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil,” this show, which had never been seen in New York City, captures the spirit of a half-century of American history, from the ragtime rhythms of the early 20th century through the Depression and World War II, up to the innocent optimism of the 1950s.  With timeless classics such as “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “I Love a Piano” does more than define the music of a generation – it defines the music of our country. And in this time of anti-immigrant fervor, let’s not forget that Berlin was an immigrant. What a blessing to our country -- and the performing arts. As Jerome Kern said: “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American Music!”.
This clever show was conceived by Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley and directed and choreographed by Roderick.  It features musical arrangements by Berkeley and a cast including Mark Baratelli, Darcie Bender, Summer Broyhill, Johnnie Moore, Sean Schwebke, and Karla Shook.  Alex LeFevre directs the nine-piece band.

For me, the afternoon was a homecoming. The Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts is at Brooklyn College, where I taught for six years; for two of which I also was working on my MFA in playwriting. Brooklyn College is part of my soul and it was good to be back. I look forward to returning for other scheduled shows -- “The Nutcracker” in December, a concert by Mandy Patinkin in March and “Evita” in April. And trust me, it’s not hard to get there -- you just take the 2 train to the end of the line, Flatbush Avenue/Brooklyn College and you’re there. My friend Mary Sheeran, who met me there, remarked a couple of times about what a breeze it was -- no wandering around a strange borough looking for a place you’ve never been. Just come up from out of the subway and you’ll see the beautiful tower of BC’s library. Check out the future offerings and maybe I’ll see you there --

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