Opening on the Northern Kentucky University campus a few days after America’s 233rd birthday, I Love a Piano is a reminder of things good, right and foursquare. Irving Berlin wrote tuneful, good-hearted and, well, all-American music.
Some 65 of his tunes are in this revue at least in part. Despite his ethnic roots, this is a distinctly white-bread musical portrait of our nation, but a darn pleasant one for a summer evening. (The production is available in a dinner-theater mode.)
The show is built around an upright piano from 1910, the source of music from the first half of the century when Berlin’s songs were everywhere. Today many remain beloved melodies and lyrics that are the fabric of everyday life. From “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Blue Skies” to World War II hits like “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” and “God Bless America,” you’ll want to hum along, if not sing out loud. (“White Christmas” is represented, too.)
The Commonwealth Theatre Company’s cast of six is three lively couples who sing, dance and act — and occasionally over-act, although it’s never jarring. Matt Bohnert and Laura Wacksman play a fresh-faced young couple; Roderick Justice and Rachel Elizabeth Perin are the dancers (Justice is also the show’s able choreographer and plays a beleaguered over-the-hill actor in a 1950s summerstock theater); Sarah Drake and Edwin Large portray somewhat more mature characters. Drake’s rendition of the emotional “Suppertime,” about a woman whose husband does not return from World War II, is a memorable and genuine performance.
The show has a top-notch orchestra of eight musicians, led by NKU faculty member Jamey Strawn (the real piano player) who also directed the show. They’re crowded into a lessthan-visible porch/bandstand, but their playing is front and center, occasionally louder than the un-amplified singers. But that’s a minor flaw. The tunes are a great reminder of music we all know and love.
I LOVE A PIANO, presented by the Commonwealth Theatre Company at Northern Kentucky University, continues through July 26. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.