BWW Reviews: Great Musical Score of THE GHOST OF GERSHWIN Brings Back a Golden Era at Group Rep
The Ghost of Gershwin/A New Old-Fashioned Musical/book by Doug Haverty/music by Wayland Pickard/lyrics by Wayland Pickard & Laura Manning/directed by Jules Aaron/Group rep at Lonny Chapman Theatre, NoHo/through June 22
Despite a lengthy, slow first act, The Ghost of Gershwin has much to sing about including a terrific musical score by Wayland Pickard, sleek choreography from Michele Bernath, dynamite direction from Jules Aaron and a super talented cast.
Grant (Andrew Bourgeois) and his partner since college days Dennis (Gregory Guy Gorden) are trying to produce an old-style musical. Grant is the composer, Dennis the producer/financial brains of the team. Personal problems get in the way. Dennis' wife Nessa (Emma-Jayne Appleyard), an actress/dancer, was once Grant's fiance and is very unsteady in her relationship with Dennis. Her dancing partner/choreographer Wilfred (Kyle Bares) is gay and has eyes for Dennis, but uptight, anal retentive Dennis does not have a clue. Two people enter the scenario: pretty Mel (Jean Altadel), a designer who is doing some tiling in Grant's apartment and ... when Grant brings in a piano from another apartment, he somehow magically connects with George Gershwin (Daniel Lench), who once lived in the building for a short spell... and poof, there he is to provide the guidance and inspiration for Grant to compose. Gershwin tries to get Grant to come to terms with his feelings re those around him in order to free himself and commit fully to the music, which also means not trying to copy Gershwin, to develop his own personal style. Gershwin advises Grant to write for Nessa as a means of setting her free and to see the possibilities in Mel, who not only tiles but can sing and dance too. So many relationships and only two hours to bring them all into focus! This is one of the problems, especially in Act I, where the introduction and development of all the characters takes so much time that it becomes a tad difficult to keep track of them or to care fully, for that matter. And with the ghost hanging around - only Grant can see him - you'd better keep him on his toes or his presence will be... just a dull presence. Fortunately, he does sing and dance and with some friendly intervention, a little twist of the hand - a la Samantha from Bewitched - helps to keep the goings-on in Grant's life as interesting as possible. Act II moves swiftly and is a big improvement over Act I.
Under Jules Aaron's expert hand, with excellent staging and quick-pacing, and Michele Bernath's zippy choreography - lots of tap - the cast perform divinely. Bourgeois acts up a storm as the bewildered but sweet and lovable Grant. Altadel brings great warmth and down.to.earth appeal to Mel. Her "The Blues" in Act II is a winner. Appleyard and Bares dance gloriously throughout and acting-wise make a true connection to the pangs of performing artists. Gorden makes Dennis a likable mess, and Lench does what he can with Gershwin to make the ghost humanly appealing. Suzy London is deliciously funny as the Eve-Ardenish landlord Coronelia who steals the show with her Act II solo "After All This Time". Chris Winfield's set of the Brooklyn apartment is appropriately snazzy and totally believable as a composer's nest.
It's wonderful to see an interest in reverting to the old-fashioned musical format which has a linear plot and songs to further that story line forward. This kind of show is a thing of the past with so many revivals on Broadway and revues trying to pass for musicals. I laud Doug Haverty and Wayland Pickard for their enthusiasm, talent and pure audacity in presenting a show that sadly may not be commercially viable at this point in time. But, you can see it at Group rep through June 22. So kick up those "Happy Feet" and go! I swear this score is unusually singable and you'll be humming "Maybe, Baby" or the dazzling opener "Time" (below) as you leave the theatre.
(photo credit: Sherry Netherland)
opening number "Time"