By Toni Wilson Wood
If this was ever a year we need a distraction, it’s this year. And if you are looking for a distraction of the beautiful song and dance variety, Oster Regent Theatre’s production of I Love a Piano might just fill your need.
First, a disclaimer. I am not that familiar with the works of Irving Berlin, so please forgive me if I sound like a ninny while talking about this musical tribute. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, tribute type works are not my cup of tea. I find them to be hard to follow if I am also not familiar with the works of the artist the tributes are in honor of. If I were more familiar with the works of Irving Berlin, I think I would have personally enjoyed this more.
That should not scare you away, however. I Love a Piano is a sweet little walk down nostalgia lane, looking back at America from late 1910 to the late 1950s, at the events that shaped it, as well as the music that defined the eras.
The cast of eight (seven of whom sing) bring excitement and effervescence to the songs and dance, and treated the events that required solemnity with touching sincerity.
Six of the seven singers/dancers pair off into couples as the play breezed through the different eras. Jens Petersen (Jim) and Molly Wells (Eileen) play off each other beautifully, whether they are playing a pair of junkyard bums in the songs “Let’s Go Slummin’” and “We’re a Couple of Swells” or a couple struggling through the separation of one serving in the war. Petersen in particular showed what a lovely range he possesses as an actor and a singer. His golden voice melts hearts at every turn and was particularly fun in “Oh I Hate to Get up in the Morning.” Wells’ vocals were stunning and pure and have a Disney princess quality to it, and her version of “What’ll I Do?” was breathtaking.
Linda Morgan (Sadie) and Jim Young (Alex) were charming and had glorious chemistry together, particularly in Morgan’s rendition of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Morgan’s version of “Suppertime” was heartbreaking.
Shelby Davis (Ginger) and Brian McDonald (George) worked very well together and were quite sweet, but when McDonald was on his own, he seemed less confident and more unsure. I’m not sure if it was opening weekend jitters or what, but it made me sad because I could tell he had talent–he just needed a bit more confidence!
Davis was a charming joy, with a sweet and multidimensional voice. She was perfect for this production because her look makes her appear at home and natural in all the different eras–not many people can pull that off. My favorite song of hers was “What Will We Do with All These Jeeps?”
Crystal Spencer (Rose) was wonderful, whether she was playing a tap dancing usher or a stood up woman at a dance hall who makes the best of her situation. In this production, she was able to not only display her lovely vocal range, but also her exquisite dance and tapping ability.
Last, but certainly not least, John Luzaich was particularly charming as the mime. His antics were delightful and I was impressed that he could move the way he did–I would have been in a pretzel on the floor of the orchestra pit if I tried to do what he did.
Overall, the music was wonderful, the actors sublime. The four piece combo showed how big a group of four musicians can sound on stage, and even the stage crew got into the act in fun, lively ways. The show runs through this weekend. Go here for information.