Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Chip Deffaa's The Irving Berlin Ragtime Revue at 13th Street Repertory Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the world premiere of The Irving Berlin Ragtime Revue at 13th Street Repertory Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

"The Irving Berlin Ragtime Revue" - Written, Arranged & Directed by Chip Deffaa
13th Street Repertory Theater (50 West 13th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 11/16/14 at 3:00 p.m.

The Irving Berlin Ragtime Revue features a number of songs written by American composer and lyricist Irving Berlin during the Ragtime Era, which ended just after World War I in 1918 when jazz replaced it as the popular musical genre of the day. Irving Berlin (born Israel Isidore Beilin on May 11, 1888) published his first song, Marie From Sunny Italy,  in 1907, but his first major international hit, published in 1911, was Alexander's Ragtime Band, which like all ragtime songs had a syncopated or "ragged" rhythm. The song sparked an international dance craze and quickly came to signify modernism, leaving behind, as music historian Philip Furia says, "the gentility of the Victorian Era" and replacing it with "purveyors of liberation, indulgence, and leisure." In 1914, Irving Berlin wrote a ragtime revue entitled Watch Your Step, which Variety called "The First Syncopated Musical." He went on to write an estimated 1,500 songs including the scores for 19 Broadway musicals and 18 Hollywood films. Many of his songs became popular themes and anthems such as Easter Parade, White Christmas, There's No Business Like Show Business, A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, and God Bless America. Irving Berlin lived for many years at 17 Beekman Place in Manhattan. He died on September 22, 1989 at 101 years of age.

Chip Deffaa, who wrote, arranged and directed this revue, has put together a masterpiece of musical theater. It includes tap and syncopated dancing recreated on stage by Tyler DuBoys and Alex Acevedo, Co-Choreographers, who meticulously researched the dance moves of the Ragtime Era. The revue also includes plenty of historical facts about Irving Berlin's life as well as a number of amusing anecdotes. Forty-four songs are presented in two acts in just under two hours but the time flies because there is always an interesting story line to keep the revue moving. Some songs are grouped together (e.g. Love Songs, Patriotic Songs, Rag Songs and Travel Songs) while others are featured as part of the very interesting story being told for the edification and enjoyment of the audience. A cast of ten (five men and five women) take turns singing, sometimes as themselves, sometimes as other famous singers of the era, such as Sophie Tucker and Fannie Brice. Every performer in this revue sang the lyrics of the songs clearly, which is extremely important when presenting the work of Irving Berlin, who is widely recognized to be one of the greatest songwriters in American history. K.W. Andersson, a seasoned professional, appeared on stage as Chip Deffaa to explain how he came up with the idea for this musical revue as well as to sing a few songs. I was also lucky to have caught one of the select performances at which cabaret singer, Carolyn Montgomery-Forant, appeared as a special guest. She is absolutely amazing!

The show features an extremely talented cast of young performers who all have very promising futures in musical theater. Jonah Barricklo, who played Alex, and Michael Kasper, who was Michael, were both presented with awards by Chip Deffaa for their hard work and dedication to this production. Brandon Pollinger, another young performer who is currently attending the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts for Musical Theater, is a very charismatic and talented fellow I look forward to seeing more of. Andrew Lanctot, who played Irving Berlin and Jessee, and Michael Czyz, who played Ben, are both extremely proficient singers and actors on the fast track to superstardom. Emily Bordonaro and Missy Dreier, who played Emmie and Missy, respectively, were the standout female performers in this musical revue bringing their class, acting ability and talent to all they did on stage. But just as essential to the success of the show were the three remaining female leads: Rayna Hirt, who played Sophie, Maite Uzal, who was Brooke, and Ann Marie Calabro, the twin sister of Theatre Boys singer/actor Philip Louis Calabro, who was Samantha. Richard Danley, who is on the faculty of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), deftly played the piano and served as the revue's Musical Director.   

The Irving Berlin Ragtime Revue is a huge hit! It deserves to run for years!

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