Monday April 30 5:57 PM ET|
"2 Musicals Celebrate Gershwin"
2 Musicals Celebrate Gershwin
By MICHAEL KUCHWARA, AP Drama Critic
NEW YORK (AP) - There's nothing quite as seductive as a George
Gershwin melody. Rhythmically strong, intoxicatingly lyrical, it
demands total surrender.
So give in right now to "American Rhapsody," a cozy, intimate
celebration of George and his brother Ira that feels more like a
private party than a public performance. This vest-pocket revue,
running off-Broadway at the tiny Triad Theater, offers fizzy,
You will have a much harder time succumbing to "George Gershwin
Alone," Hershey Felder's pedestrian one-man primer about the
composer of "Girl Crazy," "Porgy and Bess," "Rhapsody in
Blue," and "An American in Paris" among others. It opened
Monday at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre.
Felder, a classically trained pianist, portrays Gershwin. Not
only does he play the composer, but the performer plays the piano
and sings, too. I don't know if Gershwin could sing, but Felder
can't, especially something as demanding as "Porgy and Bess."
When he lets loose with "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" (singing both
Porgy AND Bess), the results are ear-shattering.
The strident vocalizing might be bearable if the rest of the
80-minute show managed to tell us something about Gershwin beyond a
straightforward biographical resume and a few lame jokes. As it is,
the composer, who died in 1937 of a brain tumor, remains a mystery.
Not that "American Rhapsody" explains the man either, but the
production is more compelling than "George Gershwin Alone"
because the music, not a recitation of facts, propels the evening.
"American Rhapsody" features pianist-singer Mark Nadler and
singer K.T. Sullivan, two performers whose physical looks conjure
up images of the 1920s. Nadler, hair slicked-back and wearing a
devilish grin, could be one of those guys who tinkled the ivories
in a Broadway speakeasy. Sullivan, a voluptuous blonde, beckons
with a come-hither smile and a knowing sauciness that suggests
she's a lot smarter than she'd be willing to admit to any admirer.
They make a compatible pair, working their way through a pile of
Gershwin songs, most of them well-known, a few not. One unpublished
ditty, "You're Mighty Lucky," with lyrics by B.G. DeSylva rather
than Ira Gershwin, is a witty duet that, if there is any justice,
should find its way into the standard Gershwin repertoire.
Sullivan does a particularly vampish rendition of "Lorelei,"
another obscure ditty, one that shows Ira's lyrics were the equal
of his brother's melodies.
If Felder is content to plod chronologically through Gershwin's
life - from his birth in 1898 on New York's Lower East Side to his
death in California at 38 - Nadler and Sullivan use the musical
numbers to comment on the man's life.
Ruth Leon, who devised and staged "American Rhapsody," has
come up with several imaginative ways to showcase the songs. The
most winning is a mini-retelling of the plot and musical numbers
from "Shall We Dance?" That Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie
featured such Gershwin classics as "They All Laughed" and "They
Can't Take That Away from Me."
Nadler can dance and play the piano at the same time, scoring
with a jaunty rendition of "Slap That Bass" that has him moving
his feet as nimbly as he does his fingers. The pianist has a light
touch on the keyboard, something not evident in Felder's show,
particularly his bombastic rendition of "Rhapsody in Blue."
Gershwin music radiates an effortless joy. "American Rhapsody"
captures that effervescence. "George Gershwin Alone," alas, does
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