WESTCHESTER, NY – Springtime is just around the corner. The old adage tells us that Spring is the season in which a young man’s fancy turns to love.
The Westchester Broadway Theatre is currently showcasing Ray Roderick’s “S Wonderful” The show is a musical tribute to two giants of the American Musical Theatre, George (1898-1937) and Ira Gershwin (1896-1983).
Mr. Roderick conceived, wrote and directed this production, which takes us on a musical journey across the United States and Europe, covering a span from 1928 to the present.
Along the way, the audience is re-introduced to the Gershwins’ most enduring songs. “Nice Work If You Can Get it” ” I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,’” “Somebody Loves Me,” “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” and “Embraceable You,” are just a few of the songs featured in five mini-musicals.
The show starts in New York City in 1928. A downtrodden, down on his luck copy boy for a New York City newspaper dreams of making it big as an investigative reporter. In a stroke of sheer genius on the part of Mr. Roderick, our hero is named Harold, who brings to life the iconic character created by the silent film star Harold Lloyd. A short, thin man with round rimmed glasses, straw hat and rubber face. Blakely Slaybaugh deftly portrays this legendary screen comedian with such precision and accuracy, it is, simply astonishing. Young Harold fantasizes about becoming an investigative reporter, and perhaps, the woman of his dreams. His dilemma is soon realized when he not only stumbles upon the woman, whom authorities suspect is the culprit behind a series of thefts of jewelry and other luxury items, but also finds the woman he has been waiting for his whole life. Harold sings “I’ve Got a Crush on You” to Leslie, while he sorts out what the proper thing to do is. Does he report her to the authorities, earning him his first cover story for the newspaper, or does he follow his heart?
The next musical vignette takes the audience to New Orleans in 1957. The singing duo of Nina and Jane give a rousing rendition of the title song from the play “Of Thee I Sing,” which earned the Gershwins a Pulitzer Prize. The 1931 show was the first musical to be so honored. The act comes to an abrupt end when Jane announces that she is marrying, moving to New York, going solo on her singing career and embarking on a world tour. A bereft Nina looks over the series of postcards she receives from Jane, including one from London, at which time, she sings “A Foggy Day.” But it is “Summertime” that brings the house down with Mary Millben’s (Nina) powerful voice, style and grace. To Nina’s surprise, Jane returns and announces that her boyfriend has left her, and the postcards she had sent Jane were but a fabrication of her mind when she sings “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
The third act opens in Paris in 1939, on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War. Leslie (Diedre Haren) is a waitress in a cafe. While taking orders from customers, Leslie longs for the day in which she finds that special “Somebody from Somewhere.” Fate intervenes when a handsome young sailor stops into the cafe. Realizing that, at any moment, the young soldier could be given his marching papers, the starry-eyed couple must face the cruel reality thrust upon them. Gene and Leslie sing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.’” In September 1939, war breaks out in Europe. Gene follows his commanding officer’s orders as the orchestra plays ‘Strike Up the Band,’ but before he departs, Gene and Leslie perform a beautifully choreographed ballet to the tune “An American in Paris.” Fast forward to the year 1945, and we see Leslie reading the front page headlines announcing that the war is over. Gene returns to Leslie’s waiting arms, and together they sing “Our Love is Here to Stay.”
The unlikely heroine in the fourth musical is a make-up artist at a Hollywood studio in 1948. A casting call is put out for a young female lead. Jane (Stacey Harris) dutifully attends to the excited would-be starlets, as she sings “Funny Face,” a Gershwin classic that was first introduced by Fred Astaire and his sister Adele in 1927. Not overly impressed by the looks of the aspiring actresses, Jane boldly takes a stand and decides to audition, as well. Undaunted by the task at hand, Jane sings one of my favorite songs “They All Laughed.” I found myself mouthing the lyrics:
“They All Laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round, They all laughed when Edison recorded sound…”
At the audition, each girl is asked to kiss the leading man, Gene. To the surprise of the director, Gene picks Jane and they sing “Nobody But You.” In a moment, Jane’s life has taken a dramatic turn, that she, herself, never thought was possible. A career in show business and a man to share her life with. But, no sooner is Jane signed to a contract with the studio, when her leading man walks off with one of his other leading ladies. A downcast Jane sings “Isn’t it a Pity.”
The fifth and final mini-musical is Gene’s story (Sean Watkins), which takes place in the present day from coast to coast. The audience is treated to stirring renditions of “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Embraceable You,” among others.
The cast and orchestra, led by musical director Ken Lundine, give a memorable night of theatre. Kudos must be given to choreographer Vince Pesce who has staged this production. The eclectic array of dance routines is breath-taking.
It is a little known fact that the Gershwins actually lived in the lower Hudson River Valley. In the late 1920s, they leased the forty-acre Chumleigh Farm Estate on Hoggs Cross Road out past Maryknoll and Pinesbridge Road. The brothers are interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-On-Hudson, NY. It is only fitting, then, to have this loving musical tribute to these giants of the American Musical Theatre staged, in our area, at the Westchester Broadway Theatre. This show won’t be here long, buy tickets now!