Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Under the skilled music direction of Matthew Stephens, who leads a trio of onstage musicians, the concert features Overby, Liz Fallon, Jamie Parnell, and Carolyn McPhee delivering several knock-out interpretations of some of the Gershwins' most famous songs. Overby also contributes several tap dances and choreographed movement, providing moments of fun and romance.
It's clear from Overby's introduction that he is a big fan of the Gershwins, but he also lets us know that growing up in North Carolina he didn't really know who they were until he started taking piano lessons and got the sheet music for George's famous composition, "Rhapsody in Blue." Overby's love for the work of these brothers comes through in the well-constructed revue that has a nice balance of many of their most well-known songs along with some of their lesser-known contributions.
A few of the many highlights include: the energetic "Slap That Bass," which Overby leads to start off the show; McPhee's bouncy and bright "He Loves and She Loves"; Fallon's torchy and emotion-infused "Someone to Watch Over Me" and her introspective take on "The Man I Love"; and playful back-to-back performances from McPhee and Parnell, respectively, of "Naughty Baby" and "Treat Me Rough." "Embraceable You" is brightly sung by Fallon with beautiful counterpart choreography from Overby. Overby and Stephens deliver a wonderful piano duo of "Rhapsody in Blue," Gershwin's homage to his home town of New York City, that features a sweeping and an ever-changing musical landscape. Also, McPhee's deliver of "The Man That Got Away," a song Ira wrote with Harold Arlen, is beautifully combined with Fallon's soul searching take on "But Not for Me."
Other fun moments include Overby and Fallon's playful duet on "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." They display some fancy, skilled footwork on this number and on many other songs in the show. Also, some of the Gershwins' lesser-known songs, including "I'm a Poached Egg" from the 1964 film Kiss Me Stupid (in which Ira provided lyrics for some of George's unpublished music) and the title song from the 1931 movie Delicious, receive fun performances from McPhee and Parnell, respectively, whose gorgeous signing voices soar on these songs as well as their other vocal contributions.
In a personable and charming moment, the audience is told how each of the four performers became friends from doing shows at ABT and how they are all now Arizona residents. Overby said he was obsessed with finding a Gershwin song about Arizona to include for that sequence and he was happy to find "Cactus Time in Arizona" from Girl Crazy. A fun "I Got Rhythm," which features changes in the tempo and style of the song, ends the show before a romantic encore of "They Can't Take That Away from Me."
Although this revue is romantic, charming and fun, I wish Overby and the cast had offered some additional information about the Gershwins in their in-between song patter to let the audience know just a little more about these brothers. Including just a few facts about these two men would have provided some background, especially considering how George died so young (at age 38 in 1937) yet composed so many phenomenal pieces in such a short life. Also, the introduction to the segment devoted to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald's many famous renditions of Gershwin songs seems a little out of place considering none of the songs performed that follow that scripted part echo either of those performers' signature interpretations. However, those small quibbles aside, there is much to enjoy in this vibrant, buoyant and joyful revue of the work of George and Ira Gershwin.
Arizona Broadway Theatre is adhering to all state and local safety guidelines for this and all of their upcoming productions. As Phoenix's only dinner theatre, they've found a way to successfully bring back the idea of "dinner and a show" at this time by separating the dining and performance experiences and temporarily locating the pre-show dining experience in the large ABT lobby space, limiting the dining capacity to 75. The socially distanced tables provide a complete feeling of safety and comfort and they've also just added an outdoor patio dining space. While ABT's dinner menu has been reduced to three entrée selections, the portion size and quality is still on par with the excellence the company has come to be known for. There are even a few appetizer and dessert selections you can add on that all are large enough for sharing, as well as a large wine list. Face masks are required by all patrons during the show portion of the evening in ABT's main stage venue, as well as when walking around the lobby. ABT has clearly done an exceptional job to ensure the safety of its patrons; my dining and show partner said this was the first time they felt like things are almost back to normal.
Crazy for Gershwin runs through March 21, 2021, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623-776-8400.
Direction, Choreography, Conceived and Written by: Kurtis Overby