It’s now over 70 years since George Gershwin died at the young age of 39, but his music can still be heard around the world. Gershwin will always be remembered for the pop songs that have become evergreen standards but he also wrote important works such as “Rhapsody in Blue,” “An American in Paris” and the incomparable “Porgy and Bess,” now regarded, rightly, as one of the most important American operas ever composed.
While George Gershwin was the composer, his talented lyricist brother Ira wrote the words for many of the best known and loved songs.
When Ray Roderick first envisaged a show encapsulating the breadth of George and Ira’s work it must have difficult to know where to start but the end result, S’Wonderful provides an evening of fun and nostalgia. The five cast members are Ashley Betton, Matthew Crowle, Deidre Haren, Stephanie Koenig and Sean Watkins, and they use all of their considerable talents and energy in this fast-moving show that really is a series of five mini-musicals each written around a different time and place during the 20th century.
After a rousing start where conductor-pianist Nathan W. Perry shows his virtuoso skill in Rhapsody in Blue followed by the cast in the title song, “S’Wonderful,” the setting moves firstly to New York City in 1924, followed by New Orleans in 1957, then back to pre-war Paris in 1939, 1948’s Hollywood and finally to today. In each section, the style ranges from wacky and comedic to romantic and sad. Ray Roderick has skillfully cut and matched music and words so that the story line flows directly from the original Gershwin work. The performers all have appealing personalities and good clear voices coupled with the dancing skills necessary to handle Vince Pesce’s demanding choreography. The onstage orchestra handled the fast-changing score with aplomb. Sometimes the speed of the segue from one well-loved song to another seemed too fast as you longed to hear the totality of the original song, but without making the show unrealistically long this could not be avoided. As a measure of the large scale of the song base used, there are over 40 selections in the show and at a rough count at least half of these would vie for inclusion in any list of top popular songs of all time.
It is difficult to pick out highlights because Gershwin is almost synonymous with the word highlight. However, Stephanie Koenig was hilarious in her rendition of “Do it Again,” with Matthew Crowle also showing comedic talents in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” as well as using his melodic voice to great effect in many of the ensemble pieces. Deidre Haren was wistful and poignant in “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Ashley Betton was very bluesy in ‘The Man I Love,” while Sean Watkins combined his good looks and strong voice to bring the most out of “Somebody Loves Me.”
This was a fun, relaxing evening with an intimate type of show that bridges the gap between straight cabaret and full-fledged musical with a good deal of success. Certainly it is hard to imagine anyone going home without many of these wonderful tunes running through their mind.
S’Wonderful runs at the Gateway Playhouse Theater in Bellport until June 18th and then on June 22nd, Legally Blonde, the spin-off musical from the hit film that starred Reese Witherspoon, starts its run. Tickets for both shows are obtainable from the box office at 631-286-1133. [/expand]