Give Irving Berlin 88 keys and a half hour, and he’d come up with a song that would soon have America singing. He loved a piano, did our Irving:
So you can keep your fiddle and your bow
Give me a p–i–a–n–o, oh, oh
I love to stop right beside an upright
Or a high toned baby grand.
That was all producers Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley needed to hear. With a catalog of 64 songs by the great tunesmith, they constructed the musical revue Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano, which has been touring the country – to great acclaim – since 2006.
The tour visits the Johnny Mercer Theatre Thursday.
“It captures both the astonishing range of Berlin’s musical styles and the cleverness of his simple rhymes,” said the Boston Globe, “which makes it easy to understand why the songwriter remains a national treasure.”
Six “triple threat” performers (that means they can act, sing and dance) make up the cast of the revue, which is no “random” collection of songs: The plot follows the titular instrument through 70 tumultuous years in modern American history.
From “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” to “God Bless America,” “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano strolls through the decades and gives each tune a context, from the innocent days of Prohibition and the First World War, the bitterness and worry of the Depression and World War II years, to the renewed sense of optimism that came with the 1950s.
Berlin (1888–1989) composed more than 1,500 songs in his lifetime; although 25 of them reached the top of the record charts, he had reached iconic stature long before such charts existed. He could write a popular song, simple and catchy (“A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” “Blue Skies”), and an exquisite love song (“What’ll I Do,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”) and was adept at musical theater (Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam).
“He wrote most of his songs from the point of view of the ‘man on the street,’ Roderick once observed. ”So it becomes a natural and, I think, truthful creative step to put his insightful and heartfelt music and lyrics into the mouths of Americans who were living through some of the iconic moments when he was writing those songs.
“And the stories we tell with his songs are the stories of so many Americans at those times.”
Wrote the Los Angeles Times’ reviewer: “I knew 15 minutes in that I was thoroughly enjoying I Love a Piano – by the ending, I was in love.
“Blame it on Berlin, and Roderick and Berkeley, and everyone else connected with this enchanting entertainment.”
Irving Berlin's I Love a Piano
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
When: At 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8
Tickets: $28-$48 at www.etix.com
Phone: (912) 651-6556
Show Web site: www.iloveapianothemusical.com