BWW Reviews: OC's 3D Theatricals Presents Enjoyable Berlin Revue I LOVE A PIANO
While taking in 3D Theatrical's surprisingly ebullient new production of the Irving Berlin musical revue I LOVE PIANO—now performing through September 23 at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton before it moves to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, September 28-30—one is reminded of the enormously indelible contributions the composer has made not only to the Great American Songbook, but to the very fabric of music in general. From rousing ditties and comic charmers to romantic ballads that tug at your heartstrings, Berlin's music is so universally beloved—and so deeply seared into everyone's consciousness—that sometimes it's actually shocking to realize... "wait, he wrote that song, too?"
That lovely feeling of endearing familiarity is sustained throughout I LOVE PIANO, a superb all-singing, all-dancing musical concoction that is as wonderfully melodic as it is charmingly square and old-fashioned (adorably square in the best sense, of course). A rousingly entertaining musical revue—constructed as an almost chronological laundry list of Berlin's ultimate greatest hits—the show, under the direction of David Lamoureux, feels very much like a love letter to the composer, allowing a sextet of insanely talented performers to let Berlin's beautiful music speak (or, rather, sing) for itself as the show travels through important time periods in American history that, unsurprisingly, parallel the composer's own remarkable musical trajectory.
The paper-thin—albeit serviceable—storyline follows the "life" of a used upright piano and the various lives and situations it imbeds itself into during the first half of the 20th Century. The timeline is further posited by providing the audience with helpful projections around the stage's proscenium, showcasing photos and super-titles reminiscent of flickering black-and-white title cards in silent movies. This, in addition to throw-away lines that steer the audience as to where and when they are in the timeline—and how, remarkably, this one piano has come into every scene—combine for a narrative that's easy enough to follow along. It's a forgivable machination considering we are treated to one beautifully-rendered musical performance after another.
From a turn-of-the-century Tin Pan Alley music shoppe, through the eras of prohibition, the depression, the dawn of movie musicals, and the Second World War, to, finally, a random regional theatre in the Midwest mounting a summer stock production in the late 1950's, I LOVE A PIANO provides a worthy musical history lesson via an incredible six-person cast that sing and dance through a seemingly endless roster of Berlin melodies that depict the ups and downs of everyday life. All, of course, are vigorously performed with such enthusiastic gusto that the audience can't help but be pleasantly out of breath as well.
Every member of the cast is an obvious triple-threat performer. The three men—Eddie Korbich, David Engel, and James Blashaw—and three women—Cynthia Ferrer, Gail Bennett, and AdriAnna Rose Lyons—each take riveting, sometimes hilarious turns in solos, duets, trios and quartets that wow the audience with each song. Though they are all amazing in their own right, torch song power-belter Ferrer and affable, smooth-singing Blashaw are both featured in individual moments that merit an honorable mention. And, naturally, when all six members sing, dance, and interact together, it's pure harmonious bliss.
The entire show is filled to the brim with entertaining highlights, but standouts include wildly energetic renditions of "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "Cheek to Cheek," "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," and "Blue Skies," plus emotionally-heartwrenching numbers such as "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," and a powerful "God Bless America" provided a few tear-inducing moments. The sequences that make up the show's second act—which include a set of songs grouped into the "Summer Stock" vignette—features a delightful collection of great anthems from familiar Berlin musicals such as "Easter Parade," "We're Just A Couple of Swells," "Anything You Can Do," "There's No Business Like Show Business," and, of course, the title song.
Besides the magnificent songs themselves and the performers singing them, I LOVE A PIANO is further elevated by the gorgeous big-band musical arrangements by Michael Berkeley, performed by a silhouetted orchestra behind the upstage curtain under the direction of Daniel Thomas, as well as the buoyant, fast-paced choreography of Kami Seymour (again, kudos to the cast for singing full-out with such maintained energy even as they spend half the numbers boisterously dancing the length of the stage)! It's really quite tap-tastic!
Overall, this heartwarming yet briskly peppy musical revue is definitely worth your time, particularly for the beautiful singing and the lively dancing performed by the show's six sensational talents. For the young and uninitiated, the show is a great way to experience what great song-craft (via Mr. Berlin, of course) can produce. For the young-at-heart, it's a chance to relive the nostalgic sounds and dance steps of a bygone era. On a side note, seeing I LOVE A PIANO actually inspired me to re-watch Easter Parade again, that glossy MGM movie musical starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, which itself is like a greatest hits parade of Berlin's enormous catalog. And just like that marvelous film, I LOVE A PIANO will fill you with Berlin's undeniable genius, and will remind you that through his music, it's quite possible to "shake all the blues away."
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Photos of 3D Theatricals' presentation of I LOVE A PIANO by Isaac James Creative. From top to bottom: Jim (James Blashaw) & Eileen (Adrianna Lyons) are just a "couple of swells," the ensemble sing from Tin Pan Alley, Sadie (Cynthia Ferrer) sings a torch song.
Performances of 3D Theatricals' I LOVE A PIANO continue at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton through September 23, 2012, then at The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center from September 28-30, 2012. Shows are scheduled Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm.
The Plummer Auditorium is located at 201 East Champan Avenue in the city of Fullerton. For tickets or more information, call 714-589-2770 or visit www.3DTshows.com.