Fascinatin’ Gershwin with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin; book by Robert Cacioppo, with Artie D’Alessio, Victoria Casella and Michael Marotta. Directed by Michael Marotta.
There’s a Little Rhythm, a Rhythm, a Rhythm...
The cast of Fascinatin' Gershwin
By J. Peter Bergman
On stage at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon there’s a celebration going on, a celebration of the all-too-short life of composer George Gershwin. Like his contemporaries Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers, Gershwin wrote the music that people liked to sing, liked to dance to, liked to hear. He was as complex a composer as Ravel and as straightforward a tunesmith as any folk-singer. He wrote, principally, for Broadway and in the years between the two world wars Broadway supplied the music that was popular. The collection of melodies in this new two-act review were written between 1919 and 1937, twenty-eight years of hits that people are still singing today and what’s the connection between them - they’ve all got rhythm.
Of all his compatriots, Gershwin was the man with the beat. He instinctively knew where the upbeat and the downbeat would meet and his brother, Ira, could always find the perfect word to bridge that minimal gap. Hearing their songs in the mouths of babes - as we do right now - is amazing. There are no Ella Fitzgeralds, or Frank Sinatras on stage here, stylizing away, making the songs their peculiar own. Here it’s all what the fellas wrote and the songs still work best that way. Luckily for all of us, director Michael Marotta has assembled a talented and attractive cast to portray "friends" of the composer, recently deceased, who come together at a lovely cocktail party to spend a few hours reminiscing about George, sing his songs and find a little love as they do so. We’re the lucky ones, it seems, to have been invited to this party. And we don’t have to do a turn, sing a song or dance a dance. The trouble is, we really want to - we want to join the party.
Joining Barn regular Robert McCaffrey - our host - are newcomers Alison Bacewicz, Morgan Forehand, Keith Hines, Megan Rozak, and Eric Richardson. Garbed in gowns and black tie by designer Jacci Fredenburg they make a gorgeous sextet, "s’wonderful" and elegant. Whether draped across the grand piano, or hovering around the gracious bar, lounging in the conversation group or leaning against the panoramic window - all elements of the really lovely set designed by Marotta and Abe Phelps, they create pretty pictures as they sing. Allen Phelps' less than subtle lighting, almost harshly theatrical at times, provides instant moods, most of which work well but a few transitions could be smoother and still do their job.
Megan Rozak is adorable as she sings standards like "The Man That Got Away" (music by Harold Arlen) and "The Man I Love." She is the lost child, a woman carrying a torch for her host who might take away her drink to hand it to another woman. She is tender and sweet and it always seems possible that she might get what she wants through feminine wiles. Morgan Forehand comes complete with fiancé, but isn’t above a little flirtation with songs such as "Shall We Dance" and "Do, Do, Do" - both performed as duets with her "intended" Eric Richardson.
Richardson sings his best number, however, with McCaffrey as the two duet on "I Can’t Be Bothered Now" displaying some delectable harmonies as they croon this up-tune to their friends. And in the harmony department the three woman out-do the Andrews Sisters for close thirds on the song "Boy Wanted."
The show’s original choreographer, Artie D’Alessio, has put dancing shoes on these singers and they all do the best they can do on a tight set with only a few places for dancers to move. They are a bit over-controlled, but may loosen up as they continue to perform the show. It amazes me to see how a simple time-step still gets a big hand from the audience as the first act finale, "Strike Up the Band," goes into its military rhythmics.
McCaffrey is a charming host, sings well and has an interesting manner in leading the cast through the "dramatic" paces of the minimal plotting. He has a few stand-alone songs that he performs well, including "I Can’t Get Started" (music by Vernon Duke) and the duet "Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off" with Megan. However, the big discovery and the stand-out star of the evening is the tall and blonde and beautiful lady in red, Alison Bacewicz. She is a natural stunner. Her singing is as sensational as her look. She can be coy in "Somebody Loves Me", shy with "How Long Has This Been Going On?" or winsome on "But Not For Me" and still be a healthy ensemble singer with the company. With her, the Barn has another future star on their hands.
Jeremy Fenn-Smith is the pianist who occasionally contributes a vocal turn and he seemed overly nervous opening night. Perhaps it was having to open the show with a solo arrangement of the principal themes from "Rhapsody in Blue," not an easy task for any pianist.
Fascinatin’ Gershwin is a show you can sit back and indulge in. There are some unusual moments, the combination of "Vodka" and "Tchaikovsky" for example, which I fully intended to dislike but thoroughly enjoyed. Marotta and his associates have cooked up an evening of rich canapes for an audience thirsty for fine champagne and oysters.
◊ 07-28-06 ◊
The Theater Barn is located at 654 Route 20 in New Lebanon, New York, just half a mile west of the Routes 20 and 22 (south) intersection. The shows generally play two weekends and the week between and tickets can be had by calling the box office at 518-794-8989. For more information go to their website at www.theaterbarn.com.