Piano Love

30 01 2009

Last night I went to the opening of Arena Stage’s Irving Berlin’s I Love A Piano which is now playing at the Lincoln Theatre on U Street. The show runs through February 15, 2009. 

If you are like me, and expect this to be a musical with songs all written by Irving Berlin, you should be aware that this is not necessarily true. It is not your ordinary musical, as in musical theatre. It is really a musical review. I was expecting a plot. There isn’t really any. There is a cast of 3 men and 3 women who basically act out a large selection of  Irving Berlin’s songs.  

The show starts off with a lone piano on the stage and there is a bunch of movers who are taking the piano off stage and one person observes the piano has an old date on it and something like, “Gee, I bet this piano has seen a lot in it’s time.” and that is the intro. I was kind of assuming the audience would be taken back through the piano’s history of belonging to Irving Berlin or something along those lines, but that never really occurred.

So the first scene takes place in a music shop and you see all these characters come together to sing a few of Berlin’s songs and everyone is having a good time. If you had to create a plot for this show, I’d say it would be something cheesy like, 6 strangers come together through the songs of Irving Berlin. But it’s not about their relationship with each other. It’s about the music.

One of the lines, repeated throughout the show is something like, “I’m not an actress, I’m a singer…who moves” –or something like that. And it is SO true. This cast doesn’t really act, so much as sing and dance and move around the stage. 

Actually, one of the show’s strong points, was the dancing. This is especially seen in the second act, where you could tell that the cast had gotten warmed up and comfortable performing. This show could be described as a musical concert with dancing performers. That might be a more apt description. 

Either way, during intermission, I realized what the show was (music, not acting) and not to expect a plot or anything and to keep my expectations low. That made the second half much better. All in all, the singing was pretty great. A few of the dance numbers were exceptional, and there was a lot of energy in the cast. 

On the other hand, the whole time, I could totally see a middle school or a high school putting on this production. It didn’t require a lot of space (The Lincoln Theatre has a pretty small stage) or a lot of people. Just some good singers who can move their body with energy. And because there was no plot, there don’t even have to be real actors cast.

Also, a few things that consistently bothered me in this show was that one of the men, who was balding, started off in the first scene and had a really stereotypical gay voice. I wasn’t sure if that was just him or his character, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t his character who seemed to like women. Maybe he was just playing off his gayness. And really, I could care less if someone is gay (I actually love gay people!) but to exaggerate it in a play where your character isn’t a flamboyant person anyways, just seemed to stand out to be like poor acting. Also, there was a girl who spoke and sang with a lisp. I’m pretty sure her character did not have a lisp. Also, I do not have anything against people with speech impediments, but I thought actors and singers could be trained out of that. Really, it was just a little distracting. I ended up focusing more on whenever her lisp became apparent, and less about what she was saying or singing.

In the end, I’d give the show a solid B. Maybe a 7 out of 10. Maybe if I had known not to expect a real musical with a plot, and had known that it would just be a musical review, my expectations would not have mattered and changed how I feel about this. So go see the show if you love the music of Irving Berlin (classics include White Christmas, God Bless America, There’s No Business Like Show Business, and Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better). Or if you like to watch dance. Or if you like jazz. But don’t go if you are expecting to see a theatrical show.

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