News Column

Berlin's songs provide soundtrack to U.S. history [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)]

July 9, 2013


Some of the greatest American songs of all time, including "God Bless America" and "White Christmas," were written by legendary composer Irving Berlin.

These songs and many more are featured in "I Love a Piano," a theatrical celebration of Berlin's music being performed over the next few weeks at St. Vincent Summer Theatre in Latrobe.

The show centers on a piano and the lives of the people surrounding it during the first half of the 20th century. The piano starts out in a Chicago music store in 1910, then moves through the decades to a speakeasy, a silent-movie theater, the Stage Door Canteen and finally to a summer-stock theater in the 1950s.

Meanwhile, the six human characters live out American history through Berlin's music, including classic favorites like "Puttin' on the Ritz," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Cheek to Cheek" and "I Love a Piano." In all, 60 Berlin songs are represented, some in their entirety and others in the form of medleys.

"The show contains some of the greatest songs of the 20th century," says director Colleen Reilly. "These songs are beloved American classics, and it's just delightful to see them come to life. There's humor, there's romance -- and there's some poignancy, too."

The story line spans two world wars, and one of the most touching scenes takes place during World War II. Sadie, a war widow, sings the song "Supper Time" as she tries to prepare dinner for her children after finding out that her husband is never coming home.

Although the show has heartfelt moments, the overall feel is uplifting, says music director Marc Tourre. "So many of the tunes will be familiar to the audience," he says. "They're just so catchy that it's really easy to absorb the music. It's very upbeat, happy music."

In addition to the piano played by the characters, the show's music is provided by Tourre on a second piano, Ted DiSanti on bass and Keith Parton on drums. The cast members bring Berlin's lyrics to life in harmonies and solos.

"The cast in this show is so talented, so energetic, and they're wonderful singers," Tourre says. "They really make the show. I think the audience is really going to enjoy it."

The ensemble cast includes Greggory Brandt, Lara Hayhurst, Kevin Daniel O'Leary, David Purdy, Renata Marino and Audra Qualley. The six cast members pair off to play three couples from different generations.

Marino, who plays war widow Sadie, also choreographed the production.

"It's a very fun, fast-paced musical," she says. The dances are appropriate to the era, and include such favorites as the Charleston, popular in the 1920s."

The music, the storyline and the choreography all add up to a show that provides a slice of American life in the early 1900s.

"This is a perfect show to celebrate America, our country, and the music," Marino says. "It's great for kids to see where all these songs came from."

Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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