'S Wonderful at WBT

Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 7:00 am By: James F. Cotter Source: Times Herald-Record

George and Ira Gershwin are celebrated for their songs in "'S Wonderful," a review of their musical careers at the Westchester Broadway Theatre. Conceived, written and directed by Ray Roderick, the musical swings along with 42 "fast and fun or slow and romantic" songs through five scenes in five different decades and locations.

Five talented singer-dancers perform throughout as each in turn stars in his or her own mini-musical. It's a wonderful show thanks also to choreographer Vince Pesce and pianist Ken Lundie who directs the eight-piece orchestra with enthusiasm and flourish. A "Rhapsody in Blue" excerpt hits the right note with the overture, as does the "'S Wonderful" company prologue.

Opening in Manhattan's Tin Pan Alley in 1928, "Harold's Story" finds Blakely Slaybaugh as a bespectacled Harold Lloyd type, a copyboy aspiring to be an investigative reporter. "Nice Work If You Can Get It," he intones, then joins the typing team in a clever montage of "I've Got Rhythm."He decides to follow Leslie, played by Deidre Haren, because she is attractive and possibly a thief. "Soon" he finds her in a bridal shop where, dressed in a wedding gown, he joins the girls in a humorous "Stairway to Paradise. "I've Got a Crush On You," Leslie confesses, and boy gets girl in a happy reprise.

Next we meet in 1957 New Orleans for —Of Thee I Sing': Nina's Story." Mary Millben is Nina, who sings a torchy "The Man I Love" just as she is about to lose him to her friend and partner Jane, played by Stacey Harris. Their duet breaks up and Jane sends Nina postcards from around the globe.

"Just Another Rumba" recalls Cuba with the company rolling in rhythm. Millben sums up the blues with the warmhearted solo "Summertime," and she and Harris belt out "It Ain't Necessarily So" with showstopping magnetism. In appearance and style, Millben recalls the multitalented Nina Simone.

"'An American in Paris': Leslie's Story" finds Haren as a waitress in 1939 Paris dreaming of "Somebody From Somewhere." Who appears but Gene, an American sailor who announces "Somebody Loves Me." Sean Watkins is a Gene Kelly lookalike and Haren another Leslie Caron as they sing and dance "Fascinating Rhythm," an ironic "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and romantic "Love Is Here to Stay." "Strike Up the Band" and a ballet "American in Paris" feature dancers and orchestra in a Gershwin musical masterpiece.

After intermission, "'Funny Face': Jane's Story, 1948 Hollywood" has Harris as a makeup artist who hopes to be discovered by crashing an audition that involves kissing a matinee hero. "Do It Again," she saucily declares, and "They All Laughed" when things go wrong. "Isn't It a Pity" she concludes. She and her friends sum up: "Boy What Love Has Done to Me." Their different personalities gel perfectly in these kaleidoscopic numbers.

"'They Can't Take That Away From Me': Gene's Story, Present Day From Coast to Coast" focuses on Watkins as a young Gene, grandson of the original Gene of Paris days. "Oh! Lady Be Good" leads to a series of Gershwin classics: "Sewanee," "Shall We Dance" and "Embraceable You," performed by the ensemble. Leslie reminds Gene of her days in Paris with a lovely "Someone to Watch Over Me," and the orchestra returns to "Rhapsody in Blue."

As a finale to this marvelously ingenious tribute, orchestra and company reprise "I've Got Rhythm" and an exuberant "Slap That Bass." If you have any doubts about the Gershwin brothers' achievement, Westchester offers you a "Stairway to Paradise" that is "Heaven on Earth."