I Love A Piano – The Cutler Majestic Theater, Boston7

I Love A Piano
The Cutler Majestic Theater, Boston
September 21-20, 2007
by Matthew Robinson

What better way to tell the story of the man who was American music from most of the 20th century than through the music itself? And that is just what the talented sextet who perform the medley-filled tribute “I Love a Piano” do for the legendary Irving Berlin.

With a loose story centered around the titular instrument – which itself sees the nation through two world wars, a great depression and many other trying times, and comes out having lost only one of its 88 keys to dissonance – “I Love a Piano” is a loving and well-conceived revue of some of Berlin’s favorites and a few lesser-known but no less impressive selections. From the budding pep of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and a Victrolad Prohibitionary take on “Pack Up Your Sins” (lovingly reprised at near 78 speeds!) to an anti-Deprression-ant “Blue Skies,” a pre-War devotional re-arrangement of “How Deep Is the Ocean?” and a version of “White Christmas” that serves as a letter from the Front, the play lets the songs tell the stories, both of Berlin and of the nation he came to know and love.

While most are happy and encouraging, some are quite provocative, especially in this setting. While “Russian Lullaby” is made especially affecting as it is sung by a down-on-her-luck immigrant who is questioning her travel plans, “Change Partners” and “Say It Isn’t So” become comments on infidelity. Other than a too-many parts mash up of “Old Fashioned Wedding” and “You’re Just In Love” (each of which is tricky enough on its own!), each song is well chosen and well placed and the medleys flow along on common themes and sometimes shared lyrics. Although the females can certainly sing louder, longer, and stronger than the men (a rehearsal setting of “Anything You can Do” lets the three female leads play to their formidable strengths), the trio of men add character(s) and charm and help make for some impressively rich harmonies. With cute slapstick and some great dance routines (including a “Big” illuminated foot piano bit) sprinkled in, the show moves along from the turn of one century almost to the turn of another. And while most of the songs may be of an earlier generation, timeless wonders like “God Bless America” continue to speak to, challenge and inspire us. So go see “I Love a Piano.”

And tell ‘em Al sent you!

©2007 Matthew S. Robinson