by David C. Nichols
view review on LATimes.com
When asked where Irving Berlin ranked in American music, fellow giant Jerome Kern famously said, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.” The enduring truth of Kern’s assessment underpins the showbiz panache of “I Love a Piano,” presented by Musical Theatre West. This delightful West Coast premiere of Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley‘s salute to America’s greatest tunesmith is as invigorating a song-catalog revue as any since “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
A regional success, “I Love a Piano” refreshes its oft-abused genre. Instead of random numbers or chronicling Berlin’s career, Roderick (who directs and choreographs the show) and Berkeley focus on the title instrument. Its passage across 70 years of national identity forms an overview through which 64 Berlin songs supply narrative. It proves a masterstroke.
A brief overture from musical director John Glaudini and his superb orchestra accompanies three moving men, who deposit the piano. The six prototypal characters launch a present-day prologue that seamlessly segues to Alexander’s Music Shop in the early 1900s. From here, “Piano” takes flight and rarely comes down thereafter. This stems from Berlin’s matchless output and the six sublime performers who send the surefire material straight to our solar plexus.
Although Dan Pacheco could use seasoning, his boyish bravado suits juvenile Jim, and Jill Townsend is exemplary as ingenue Eileen. Stephen Breithaupt’s animated Alex meets his match in the marvelous Julie Dixon Jackson, who as Sadie invisibly flips from screwball to soulful. As George, Kevin Earley has never been better, and Kathi Gillmore, her mercurial Ginger both droll and vulnerable, is a discovery.
When asked where Irving Berlin ranked in American music, fellow giant Jerome Kern famously said, ‘Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.’ The enduring truth of Kern’s assessment underpins the showbiz panache of ‘I Love a Piano,’ …as invigorating a song-catalog revue as any since AIN’T MISBEHAVIN.
– Los Angeles Times