Gershwins' 'Wonderful' is just that

Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012 7:00 am By: Peter D. Kramer Source: The Journal News

We are in a Gershwin moment. There’s the revival of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” on Broadway — starring Westchester’s Audra McDonald. At the end of the month, another Westchester resident, Kelli O’Hara, comes to Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” opposite Matthew Broderick, a new musical comedy romance featuring classic Gershwin tunes. And there’s the opening of “’S Wonderful,” billed as “The New Gershwin Musical,” at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford.
Then again, the music of the Gershwins — music by George, lyrics by Ira — seems to be hard-wired into the American DNA, a fact on happy display in “’S Wonderful,” an inventive revue of highlights from the Gershwin canon.  As conceived, written and directed by Ray Roderick, “’S Wonderful” is five musicals in one — set in 1928 New York, 1957 New Orleans1939 Paris, 1948 Hollywood and the modern-day USA — with the slightest of books to connect the front-and-center songs.

The hard-working cast of five — the clear-voiced Deidre Haren, comic Stacey Harris, sultry Mary Millben, slapstick Blakely Slaybaugh and high-flying Sean Watkins, triple-threats all — never misses a beat, gliding effortlessly from one classic tune to the next.

The show is chock full of hits, including: “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “The Man I Love,” “A Foggy Day,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” There are more serious works, too: “Rhapsody in Blue” acts as a magnificent glue holding it all together; and “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” from “Porgy and Bess” give the evening depth.

Purists may sniff at the artistic license Roderick employs to take such songs out of their context, but the overall effect is undeniably inventive. There are times — as in a ballet set to “An American in Paris” — when the artistry of Vince Pesce’s choreography, paired with lush melodies, shines brightest.

The seven-piece band, under the magnetic direction of the irrepressibly kinetic Ken Lundie at the piano, has never sounded better.

“’S Wonderful” is as its title suggests. While not a big-book musical (the traditional fare at the dinner theater), it surely entertains.

And, to quote dear old Ira, who could ask for anything more?