54 Sings Irving Berlin: There’s No Business Like Show Business





NY Cabaret Review by Marilyn Lester


Take a baker’s dozen of Broadway luminaries, combine them with three crackerjack musicians, and one insightful director, let them loose on the music of Irving Berlin, and watch what happens: you’ll find yourself in the middle of glorious, happy-making entertainment.

Irving Berlin’s career spanned most of the 20th century. His 1,500 songs covered the gamut of the human experience – a bona fide feast of work to choose from. Director and genial host, T. Oliver Reid put together a smartly-paced and well-balanced revue of ballads and up-tempo rhythms, connected by an astute narrative; Reid’s text featured just the right mix of content without overtaking the music – classics as well as welcome lesser-known numbers.

Berlin’s first big hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” led the show, played in a bouncy improvisational jazz arrangement by Music Director/piano man Jon Weber, with Ritt Henn on bass and Daniel Glass on drums. It’s a given that when Weber is at the helm musical excellence is guaranteed. Throughout the show Weber didn’t disappoint with characteristic virtuosity that perfectly supported the performers as well as showcased his own transcendent talent.

Across the board, Berlin’s songs were sung with sensitivity and respect; as each singer took the stage it seemed as if the assigned tune was written just for him/her. Among the bountiful array of the evening’s offerings, Tari Kelly was first up with the fanciful “I Love A Piano.” Later in the show she sang a cheerful “I Got The Sun In The Morning” almost making you forget the rent is due. Haley Swindal performed “Let Yourself Go/I’d Rather Lead A Band” and later, “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me.”

Jennifer Sheehan’s delicate and evocative “Reaching for the Moon” began with a haunting bass accompaniment, with Henn using the bow to maximum atmospheric advantage. Catherine Walker with “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka with “Say It Isn’t So,” touched heart strings deeply with yearning authenticity. Walker also teamed up with Scarlett Strallen for a tongue-in-cheek, theatrically-laced “Sisters.”

Changing it up, Nicholas Rodriguez belted a perhaps overly-feverish, gay version of “You Can Have Him,” while the irrepressible “Mr. Broadway,” Lee Roy Reams, commanded the stage with an effortless and evocative medley of “All Alone,” “What’ll I Do,” “Remember,” and “Always,” an homage to Berlin’s love for his wife, Ellin (Reams also noted that a Berlin daughter was in the house). A second medley was delivered by the charismatic, Tony Yazbeck, singing tunes made famous by Fred Astaire: “Change Partners” and “Let’s Face The Music and Dance” with freshness and verve.

The multitalented T. Oliver sang “Puttin’ On The Ritz” (alternative version) with a surprise chorus of four male tap dancers. Reid’s interpretation was light, lyrical and plenty of fun. Reid teamed with Robyn Hurder for another frothy number, the charming counterpoint “You’re Just In Love.”

The penultimate number, “There’s No Business Like Show Business” was sung with full lyrics by that force of nature, Cady Huffman. When Ethel Merman sang the tune in 1954 she made it an anthem for performers everywhere. Huffman preached it; her resonant voice and made-for-the-stage persona made us want to reach for a straw hat and cane without delay.

Carmen Ruby Floyd closed the show. Earlier she sensitively sang “Supper Time,” an aching song about a husband’s lynching and a wife’s reaction. Now, with fervor, she graced us with an inspiring “God Bless America,” Berlin’s iconic song that had everyone spontaneously joining in with rousing voice. It was the fitting ending to a skillfully-conceived revue, and an evening of superlative entertainment.


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