Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Conceived and directed by Steve Hilderbrand and Gary Gallner, with Hilderbrand also doing a superb job leading the excellent onstage band and providing some excellent musical arrangements, Love Is Here to Stay: A Gershwin Cabaret uses close to fifty Gershwin tunes to trace the intriguing journey of these famous siblings. Told mostly in a chronological fashion, the show features seven extremely talented vocalists who deliver knock-out performances of some of the greatest hit songs in the Gershwin catalog. Hilderbrand and Gallner also conceived a similar Cole Porter revue show, I Get a Kick out of Cole, which premiered at Theater Works two years ago.
The narration throughout touches upon George and Ira's upbringing and how they got their start in the music business, with an overview of their Broadway hits and their time in Hollywood. The narration adds just enough information to understand and further enjoy the music and to give details into their lives without being over sentimentalized. The numerous songs included in this revue also show how George's music and Ira's lyrics were continually full of wit and sophistication.
The seven vocalists are interwoven seamlessly throughout, both in ensemble numbers, trios, duets and solos, and they take turns providing the narration. There isn't a weak link in the cast. There also isn't one misstep in the song selection, which means there are many highlights. These include Trisha Ditsworth's clear vocal performance of "Naughty Baby" and her soaring version of "The Man that Got Away" and Kathleen Berger's expert take on "By Strauss" and her heartfelt performances of "But Not for Me," "The Man I Loved," and "Love Walked In." Beth Anne Johnson delivers superlative renditions of "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Do It Again," with an emotion-filled delivery of each lyric, and Alexandra (Ixy) Utpadel's performance of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" is stunning.
Joshua Vern gets a chance to show off his dance abilities in a fun tap version of "Fascinating Rhythm," that he expertly navigates with Ditsworth, and he has some moments of comedy in his performance of "Vodka." Colin Ross shows his chameleon-like acting abilities in the narration segments by effectively portraying people who came in contact with the Gershwins, as well delivering lovely performances of "A Foggy Day" and "Things Are Looking Up." Scott Schmelder's "I've Got a Crush on You" is full of joy. Hilderbrand also participates in a few songs that add a sense of refined elegance to the show.
There are also many excellent group numbers. The vocal arrangement for the entire cast for "Embraceable You" is a knock out as are the harmonies that Utpadel and the men achieve on "Bidin' My Time." A suite of music from Porgy and Bess toward the end of the second act is simply stunning and the show ends with four duets of movie songs the duo wrote, excellently performed by the entire cast.
With an abundance of varied steps and playful moves that play off the lyrics, Katrina Sander's choreography is excellent. Brett Aiken's exceptional set design, which includes two grand staircases with a piano key motif, works perfectly for this production, and Tim Monson's lighting is simply superb, with an abundance of colors and shadows that echo perfectly the feelings and moods that the words in Ira's well composed lyrics instill. Landis York's costumes are full of elegance, and the four piece band, led by Hilderbrand, provides a lush and lively accompaniment throughout.
Love Is Here to Stay: A Gershwin Cabaret is an excellent revue that shows how joyful and skilled these compositions, and further demonstrates how the Gershwins are one of the most well-known and best American writing teams. They wrote dozens of songs that became the backbone of the American Songbook and this production, with its talented cast, presents knockout interpretations of some of George and Ira Gershwin's most famous songs.
Love Is Here to Stay: A Gershwin Cabaret runs through November 20th, 2016, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623-815-7930.
Music & Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin
Cast: (in alphabetical order)