Saturday, July 27, 2002

The Melody Lingers On...The God Belss America Musical (Berea Summer Theatre)

Pleasant Meldoy lingers on at Berea Summer Theatre

Summer is made for relaxing, reminiscing, and pleasant times. Berea Summer Theatre’s THE MELODY LINGERS ON...THE GOD BLESS AMERICA MUSICAL, which is based on the songs of Irving Berlin will satisfy all those summer needs.

Irving Berlin was born in Eastern Russia in 1888. His family moved to New York in 1893 to escape the pogroms. At the age of eight, he took to the streets of the Lower East Side of New York City to help support his family after his father had died. In the early 1900s he started writing songs. His first published hit was "Marie From Sunny Italy."

In World War I he wrote the musical YIP, YIP, YAPHANK which included the hit song "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning." On Armistice Day, 1939, he introduced "God Bless America," which was sung by Kate Smith (a filmed version of this is included in the BST production). This song threatened to replace the national anthem because of its popularity. In World War II, he wrote the musical THIS IS THE ARMY, which contained "This is the Army, Mr Jones" and “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen."

Berlin was prolific. He wrote more than 900 songs, 19 musicals, including the legendary ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, and the scores of 18 movies. Some of his songs that have become classics include "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Easter Parade," and "White Christmas."

Following a 1988 gala 100th birthday celebration concert at Carnegie Hall, Morton Gould, president of ASCAP, said that "Irving Berlin's music will last not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year, but always." Songwriter Jerome Kern observed "Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music." Not bad for a poor immigrant who had only two years of formal schooling and who never learned to read music! Irving Berlin died on September 22, 1989, at the age of 101.

THE MELODY LINGERS ON...THE GOD BLESS AMERICA MUSICAL chronicles Berlin’s life and music, with an actor portraying Berlin acting as the narrator.

Director/choreographer Eric van Baars has developed a pleasant show. There are neither stirring moments nor disappointing flaws. The 10-person cast is competent, the music well presented, the choreography nicely developed. Scenic designer Todd Kripsinsky’s mutli-leveled piano-motifed set works well. The use of real slides and pictures of Berlin’s life was a production enhancement. Jeffrey Smarts’ costumes are nicely conceived.

Show highlights include the cleverly choreographed “When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam’,” the flapper era ditty “Shaking The Blues Away,” “ the energetic “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” and the creative “Let Yourself Go.”

Capsule judgment: One of the show’s lines states, “The evening was electric.” No, the evening wasn’t electric, but it is pleasant and reminiscent and relaxing. It makes for a nice summer entertainment.