This review of South Shore Theatricals' The Melody Lingers On: The Songs Of Irving Berlin at The Madison Theatre at Molly College was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
The Melody Lingers On: The Songs Of Irving Berlin
Produced & Directed by Bruce Bider & John Pane
Musical Director: Bruce Bider
Choreographer: Mike Canestraro
Stage Design: John Page
The Madison Theatre at Molly College
1000 Hempstead Avenue
Rockville Centre, New York 11570
Reviewed 7/25/15 at 8:00 p.m.
Irving Berlin (born Israel Isidore Baline) was a Russian-born, Jewish American composer and lyricist who is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. As Jerome Kern once said, "Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music." Born on May 11, 1888, he published his first song, "Marie From Sunny Italy" in 1907, receiving 37 cents for the publishing rights. His first big hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band," published in 1911, sparked an international dance craze. During his sixty-year career, he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films. Over a period of five decades, Berlin's songs defined American popular music. He died on September 22, 1989, at age 101. This show, The Melody Lingers On: The Songs Of Irving Berlin, was written to introduce Irving Berlin to new generations of those not familiar with his life and accomplishments. It features nearly thirty-two of his most famous songs interspersed with narration regarding the milestones of his interesting and tumultuous life.
South Shore Theatricals brought together a multi-generational cast of approximately fifty and was able to get a number of special guests and luminaries from the stage, screen, television, and cabaret to perform. Frank Basile, a bass who is comfortable on the grand opera stage and cabaret alike, was most impressive with his inspiring and moving renditions of "The Girl I Love (Is On A Magazine Cover)," "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody," and "The Girl That I Marry." Sarah Rice, Broadway's original "Johanna" in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, is an extraordinarily talented woman who brought the house down singing "How Deep Is The Ocean?", "Supper Time," and "All Alone." Together, they sang two magical duets - "Always," and "Let's Face The Music & Dance." Kathryn Crosby, a majestic and elegant performer, sang "I Love A Piano," Blue Skies," as well as a number of duets including White Christmas, a song her late husband, Bing Crosby, popularized. The very charismatic Richard Halpern (a/k/a Mr. Tin Pan Alley) sang "Oh! How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning," "Cheek To Cheek," and "Let Me Sing & I'm Happy." Judi Mark was superb throughout but really made her mark singing "Shaking The Blues Away," while Peggy Sue Johnson put us in a country mood with her rousing presentation of "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun." The only complete drain on the very life of this production was Michael Buscemi, who played Irving Berlin himself. He simply was not in the same class as the featured performers. Whoever made the decision to cast him in this major role made a big mistake. He could not particularly sing or act well, yet his voice and presence was the first thing the audience heard when the show opened. It took suffering through a few numbers and feeling I had wasted my time coming out to see this show when finally, Kathryn Crosby and Frank Basile took the stage and my hope for enjoying the production was once again restored.
The Teen and Children's Ensembles were dressed to the nines and added their dancing and singing talents to enhance the enjoyability of many numbers. Their presence was particularly visible in "Play A Simple Melody" and "Puttin' On The Ritz", while they and the rest of the Adult Ensemble really came together well when the entire company sang "God Bless America" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." The images of posters from musicals and of LP record covers projected on the back wall of the stage were perfectly coordinated with the songs and medleys presented. However, when a microphone went dead on stage, there seemed to be no one paying attention so that someone could quickly fix it.
Everyone who attended this show surely got more than their money's worth and enjoyed an excellent and informative evening of entertainment. After the show, those in the know, performers and audience members alike, converged at the Golden Reef Diner in Rockville Centre for some interesting and lively conversation while having breakfast or dinner, and sampling the diner's new gelato bar. Keep an eye out for South Shore Theatricals next production. You won't want to miss it!