by Peter Haas
A sparkling program of song filled Pace University’s Schimmel Center on a recent Saturday night, as the auditorium hosted Salon Songbook: The Gershwins and Friends. It was a rich new program of theater and popular numbers created by the Gershwin brothers: composer George and his lyricist brother, Ira.
The evening, written and narrated by author/producer Deborah Grace Winer, presented Christine Andreas, Klea Blackhurst, George Dvorsky and Nicolas King in a program of songs that the Gershwins wrote together – a partnership that Deborah described as “an alchemy of words and music” – as well as numbers that, following George’s early death, Ira authored with other composers.
Opening with the company performing “Fascinating Rhythm,” the evening, staged, with neat simplicity by Mark Waldrop, included such classics as “But Not For Me,” “Sam and Delilah,” and a warm “I Can’t Get Started ”– all performed by Klea; “The Man I Love,” “Summertime, ” “The Man That Got way” and Kurt Weill and Ira ’s “My Ship,” sung movingly by Christine; lively young Nicolas King with “Isn’t It a Pity,” “They All Laughed” and “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” and George Dvorsky in robust baritone renditions of “Let’s Take a Walk Around the Block,” “Sweet and Lowdown,” “Embraceable You”; and, in duet with Christine, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
Following George’s early death and Ira’s self-imposed hiatus (as Deborah noted), Ira teamed with several composers; some of these numbers, too, were included in the Songbook evening. Among them: “My Ship” (music by Kurt Weill’), sung movingly by Christine; Vernon Duke’s “I Can’t Get Started,” performed in mellow mood by Klea; “Long Ago and Far Away,” music by Jerome Kern, and sung by George Dvorksy; “You’re a Builder-Upper,” with music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ira teamed with “Yip” Harburg, and sung by Nicolas; and, in a double-finale, the evening’s cast performing the Gershwin brothers’ “Love Is Here to Stay” and “S’Wonderful.”
Underpinning the evening with fresh-sounding music were musical director John Oddo and the on-stage combination of Ken Ascher on piano, Aaron Heick on woodwinds, James Saporito on drums and Jay Leonhart on bass. Saporito and Leonhart together created their own musical break with a rendition of “Slap That Bass.”
“Gershwin and Friends” deserves more-than-a one-time performance. Here’s hoping that the show can find a run in a more easily accessible venue. Keep your eyes peeled.
Photos: Kevin Yatarola