This review was corrected on Sep. 9, 2002.
Ray Roderick may love a piano, but his heart truly belongs to Irving Berlin. Roderick directed and choreographed this tribute revue and co-wrote it with Michael Berkeley. His affection for Berlin’s songs has resulted in an energetic, animated presentation of nearly 60 of Berlin’s tunes, ranging from 1911’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” to selections from 1950’s “Call Me Madam.”
The aim is not to re-create the atmosphere of each song but to give them new life for contemporary audiences. Thanks to his adroit direction of his nimble cast, Roderick largely succeeds. The strutting, cajoling, embracing songs are newly revealed to an audience that has somehow escaped the wizardry of Berlin’s achievements over much of the 20th century.
Both youth and middle age are represented in the casting. Michael E. Gold, at the upper end of the age spectrum, provides a firm anchor for the wide-ranging time frame. Alex Ryer illuminates the tragic “Supper Time” and proves that Berlin songs do not have to be sold — just expressed personally. Later she comes on looking like a Kate Smith double to sing (inevitably) “God Bless America.”
Jeffrey Denman reaches a peak with perhaps the loveliest song heard all evening, “How Deep Is the Ocean.” His warm baritone is enjoyable throughout the show, notably in “The Girl That I Marry.” He also has a talent for comedy that is put to good use. Ellie Mooney, a tiny blonde with a big voice and singular comic abilities, teams with Shonn Wiley, the youngest of the group, on an “Easter Parade” seg that is a high point of the show. Stephanie Block delivers “Say It Isn’t So” sweetly and is heard to amiable effect throughout.
Chronology may not seem important to today’s audiences, but the lack of it here deprives us of observing the composer’s development. Another quibble: Too many songs are merely belted that might better be presented in less strenuous fashion, particularly in the first part of the show.
Still, individually and in ensemble, the singers are fresh and appealing, and ultimately triumph, along with the show, over poor acoustics and a tinny sound system. A simple setting or arches and screens for appropriate projections seems just right.