note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
"Watch Your Step" has a wild nonsensical plot which, the odder it got, the more we roared. What a joy to turn back the clock to 1914 and see Irving Berlin's very first musical.
"Watch Your Step" was adapted for the Longy School of Music performances by Brad Conner and Ben Sears of American Classics from several scripts perused by the duo. While researching Berlin last year, they unearthed a previously unpublished manuscript of a Christmas song by the man who composed over 1500 songs --- so many that it's easy to see why he relegated some to a drawer, and reworked others. (His biggest hit, "White Christmas" was the largest selling song in the world, until it was supplanted by Michael Jackson's and then Elton John's songs.) Berlin's songs, the lion's share of them hits, are now part of the American consciousness.
Aside from the excitement of hearing another version of "Everybody's Doin' It" and rare gems like "When I Discovered You," director David Frieze's cast captured the spirit of the cockeyed script --- about chasing down an inheritance --- and the performances couldn't have been more animated if it had been a full production. "Script-in-hand" hardly described what happened last weekend: The singers were all off book and on their feet for each of their big solo numbers, and a minimum of props resulted in maximum impact. It felt like a full production. (Audiences are coming around to concert opera, so why not concert musicals?)
Among the thrills were the four-hand overture by Brad Conner and Margaret Ulmer (which sounded like a rousing silent movie score), an old fashioned heart-throb leading man in Brent Reno, the love duets for Reno and Mary Ann Lanier (who has never been more adorable), and sensational comic turns by Roberta Gilbert as a dishy foxtrotting dame, by Eric Bronner as a pompous matinee idol, by Valerie Anastasio as a femme fatale (Who knew lemon pie was sexy?), by Diana Rice in several roles, by Ben Sears and Conner as moustache-twirling bad guys, and by Andrew Alexander as an opera singer (Spaghetini) whose bravissimo "Come to The Argentine" brought down the house. Then Berlin's opera parody did it again. With delicious surprise after delicious surprise, American Classics delivered a classic in high style.