Also with: Alton Fitzgerald White, Karen Quackenbush, Stephanie Pope, John Hickok, Rodney Scott Hudson, Laurie Beechman.
“C’mon & Hear! Irving Berlin’s America” is a well-sung and colorful montage of familiar melodies chronicling the immigrant experience at the turn of the century and on to the Wall Street crash. Berlin’s tuneful legacy survives joyfully, despite a cumbersome and wobbly plot link.
Carol Woods serves as a guide as she rummages through an attic of forgotten memories, ultimately finding a small upright piano, providing the ideal segue for “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song.” The rest of the cast arrive as weary travelers, after a monthlong ocean crossing to Ellis Island, having fled Czarist Russia, to express their hopes and dreams in a rousing chorus of “Blue Skies.”
Little old New York becomes the canvas as the group experiences the gritty vitality and ragtime glamour of Manhattan. All creeds, colors and classes are governed by the snappy tunes and ardent romanticism of Tin Pan Alley. The songs do not offer a chronological study of the composer’s work, but rather a panoramic collage of his timeless Broadway and Hollywood output. Over 45 selections — from his first published success with “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911 to “Empty Pockets Filled With Love,” from “Mr. President” in 1962 — are deployed.
The buoyant ensemble sings soulfully and fervently. As characters connected by an elusive thread, they engage in varied romantic involvements and cross-purposes that are not clearly defined. The staging and choreography by George Faison is sure and steady, letting the songs set the course — and they are dandy.
Ted L. Levy provides slick tap-dancing to “Steppin’ Out With My Baby”; Laurie Beechman adds cabaret torchiness with “What’ll I Do?” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” And there is a plaintive rendering of “How Deep Is the Ocean” by Mary Testa. Woods edges toward the finale with a pensive reading of the Ethel Waters classic “Supper Time.”
The busy but all-purpose set design by Chris Barreca creates many locales, from a ship hold to a swank penthouse, and there’s a sliding skylight to periodically let in those blue skies. The period costumes by Toni-Leslie James are a keen asset.
Gratefully, the show is not of the worn-out “and-then-I-wrote” format. But the attempt to link so many characters with so many songs never succeeds. Only Berlin reaches out, and that seems quite enough.