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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 11, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 06
Showtunes celebrates Irving Berlin
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Showtunes celebrates Irving Berlin

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

The Melody Lingers On
February 5-6
Moore Theatre


There are few in America who will not recognize the name Irving Berlin. There are even fewer - if any - who would not recognize at least one of the 1,500 songs he wrote. For two performances, the Moore Theater was alive with celebration of this American master. Showtunes Theatre Company (hosted by the Moore Theater) presented The Melody Lingers On, a tribute to the genius and the 60-year career of musical virtuoso Irving Berlin.

With the help of a six-piece orchestra, nine singers took seats across the stage and entertained for over two hours. With excerpts of dialogue read from the book Irving Berlin: A Daughter's Memoir, the performers laid out the life of Israel Baline, the son of a Jewish Russian cantor who became the first great American composer. Starting with his first hit song, 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' the troupe delivered the classics ('What'll I Do,' 'Easter Parade') and those less familiar, but nonetheless recognizable ('I Love A Piano,' 'Change Partners') tunes. When they sang 'God Bless America,' the performers explained that Berlin had 100% of the song's royalties going to the Scouts of America, as he did not want to cash in on the nation's patriotism.

Shelly Burch (Drama Desk Award nominee for Broadway's NINE) sang a darker Berlin song, 'Supper Time,' which tells the story of a woman's reaction to the news that her husband has been lynched and how she'll tell her children. Ms. Burch's voice is powerful and mournful as she delivered the 1933 Berlin classic, emoting the pain that comes from the soul of the song without losing its bitter but beautiful melody. Louis Hobson (Broadway's Next to Normal) represented Berlin's army career with 'Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.' His somnolent voice expressed drowsy frustration with the army's bugle call of 'Reverie.' Matt Wolfe (5th Avenue's Catch Me if You Can) brought the house to laughter and applause with his comic delivery of 'Let Me Sing And I'm Happy.' Jenny Shotwell sang the comically saucy 'You'd Be Surprised' with salacious timing. Jeff Church's deep voice sang 'Blue Skies' like a crooner of past years. Other solos included Connie Corrick ('Always'), Jon Lutyens ('Steppin' Out With My Baby'), Aaron Shanks ('Shakin' the Blues Away'), and Jessica Skerritt ('I Got the Sun in the Morning (and the Moon at Night)'). All nine performers had their chance to shine, and all succeeded and surpassed their goals.

Showtunes Theatre Company celebrated its 10th year in 2010. Putting on shows in concert style (no scenery and minimalistic costumes so the performers can concentrate on the songs themselves), Showtunes has put on a wide variety of musicals from Follies to Annie Warbucks. Boasting the talents of musical director Mark Rabe, Showtunes also hosts Martin Charnin (lyricist of Broadway's Annie) as artistic director and artist in residence.

After being victims of anti-Semitic Russian pogroms, the family of Irving Berlin settled in the lower eastside of New York in 1893, when Irving was only 5 years old. The hit 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' in 1911 set off an international dance craze, and placed young Berlin on his musical path. Many hit songs would follow, including 'Always,' 'Puttin' on the Ritz,' and 'Heatwave,' but it was his later Broadway hits Annie Get Your Gun (1946) and Call Me Madam (1950) that would allow him to pen the hits, 'You're Just in Love' and the showbiz anthem, 'There's No Business Like Show Business.' Despite being born into a religious Jewish family, Berlin would pen the song 'White Christmas' in 1942 and permanently establish himself as one of America's greatest composers. In 1925, Irving met, fell in love with, and later married Ellin Mackay, the Catholic heiress of the Postal Telegraph Cable Company. Although the marriage was bitterly opposed, it lasted 63 years, producing four children and only ending with Irving's death in 1989 at the age of 101.

To contact Eric Andrews-Katz, e-mail eric@sgn.org.

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