Barrington Stage Scores with a Lovely, Loving Evening of Gershwin
Barrington Stage Company has done it again, conjuring theatrical magic to turn a concert in a parking lot into a swinging, top-tier, cabaret of one’s dreams. Like last year’s “The Hills Are Alive with Rodgers and Hammerstein,” Julianne Boyd (Artistic Director of BSC and Director of the evening’s show) has gathered five Broadway talents to assay the work of an individual composer. This year with “Who Could Ask for Anything More?” the subject is George Gershwin.
The five powerhouse performers pull a charm offensive and invade the tent from five different directions singing “Love is Sweeping the Country.” I wasn’t sure if this was ironic, determined optimism or as it is proven by the evening that follows; a manifestation of the stated goal by the act of creating it. After nearly a year and a half with minimal live theater we were about to be regaled with 25 of the greatest songs in the popular music canon by one of the preeminent Broadway composers. Under a tent in a parking lot in the industrial side of Pittsfield “There never was so much love.” ‘Swonderful.
The love comes fast and furious with a great duet of “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” by BSC Artistic Associate Alan H. Green and Allison Blackwell. Jacob Tischler and Britney Coleman made a winning couple as they share a pair of duets with “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” and “They All Laughed.”
Every singer got at least one love song of their own and my favorites of theirs were Jacob Tischler’s forlorn “Somebody Loves Me,” Britney Coleman’s insouciant “Naughty Baby,” Alan H. Green’s playful “Bidin’ My Time,” and Allison Blackwell’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” It’s sometimes easy to forget that Gershwin composed for the theater perhaps because his songs have been so firmly established as standards and the shows which he wrote for haven’t stood up as well.
Alysha Umphress grabs hold of a trio of songs and shows at least three sides of her prodigiously talented personality. In “Jazzbird,” a song new to me, she is all light swing and seriously skilled scatting running off with the song downstage. “Do It Again” gets the bawdy and loving it, down and dirty wink that Ms. Umphress can deal out better than anyone. Finally, “The Man I Love” was accompanied by a freight train’s rumble at the top which coincidentally introduced this torchy tale that the singer set ablaze. A fabulous performance.
If the content is not as politically pointed as the R&H evening was with their socially conscious lyrics, the evening of Gershwin does not lack for civic significance with a couple of selections from “Porgy and Bess,” a shattering “Summertime” superbly sung by Allison Blackwell and more pointedly after all the losses this past year, “My Man’s Gone Now” piercingly delivered by Alan H. Green which tells of a Black man killed and starts after what sounds like a gun shot.
The band led by Conductor Darren R. Cohen is first rate and gets their chance to assert themselves with a fine overture of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Pit musician Mitch Zimmer is recruited to take a place center stage as the women surround and exhort him to “Slap That Bass” His smile kept growing through the number and well past he returned to the bandstand.
Although under a tent, the urbane suaveness of the evening was summoned by the set (designed by Lex Liang) of four art deco inspired, lighted flats and bandstand created a sharp Café Society look which had infinite variations thanks to lighting designer David Lander who must have pulled off some miracles working with a
minimal outdoor set-up. The costumes designed by Sara Jean Tosetti were all hot colors of satin and florals, making a beautiful portrait of summer sophistication.
In introducing the next to last song, we’re told how Gershwin moved out to Hollywood in his final year and died prematurely at the age of 38. His brother Ira wrote the lyrics for his final song. If that weren’t enough to move you, Barrington Stage and theater itself, could be heard in the lyrics promising “Our Love is Here to Stay.”