note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Beverly Creasey
Have you seen the wonderful television commercial (for what I don’t recall) with four burly guys around a card table? Instead of mantalk, they sound like their wives: “Do you think this shirt makes me look fat?” one of the guys earnestly asks the group. Another complains that the rich dessert will go right to his hips. It’s delightful to hear men saying what they never, never would (Well, in public anyway). I just found out that George S. Kaufman wrote that skit in 1923. “If men played cards as women do” is a little lame by today’s standards but perhaps funny bones were smaller back then.
Ben and Brad, that fabulous duo who unearth historical musicals by Gershwin and Berlin ---not to mention material that never saw the light of day before---have delved into the past again and this past weekend we were treated to Irving Berlin’s MUSIC BOX REVUES, presented by American Classics.
. Berlin built his own theater in l921 (which is still there, between 8th Ave and Broadway) and produced his own shows! The “Revue” of the ‘20s was a bit different from what we now call a revue. Berlin’s shows consisted of a song, then a short comedy sketch (written by Kaufman or Robert Benchley or another of the Algonquin Round Table rounders), then a song etc. The beauty of American Classics’ “Musicals in Concert” is that they can round up the top musicians and comedians in Boston and recreate a show which would break the bank to fully produce.
Mary Ann Lanier and Margaret Ulmer broke every heart in the house with Berlin’s most beautiful song, “What’ll I Do?”--- (in my opinion this song and “Always” are the best of the genre). Lanier captured the sweetness and fragility of longing and Ulmer added a gorgeous piano accompaniment. Ulmer can make that grand piano sound like a whole orchestra.
Talk about the top singers in Boston: Eric Bronner has top notes so sweet, and strong, you think you’ve died and gone to heaven. He and Jean Danton delivered the poignant “All Alone.” Ben Sears, likewise, has the low notes to make you swoon, not to mention the wonderful range in between.
American Classics has assembled so many wonderful singers, who are no slouches when it comes to comedy, that I wish I had space to regale you with the whole show. Suffice it to say, Bob Jolly, celebrated for his Gilbert & Sullivan performances, got to deliver Berlin’s nod to G&S. The hilarious Peter Miller got to don a Napoleonic tricorn for Brad Conner’s silly execution and Valerie Anastasio and company cavorted in grand style. Then the troupe pulled out all the stops for the faux grand opera “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” If you missed it the first time (in l921) and you missed it this time, you may have to wait another 84 years.