IF YOU GO
What: Musical revue using 42 songs from George & Ira Gershwin
When: Wednesday through Sunday evenings with selected matinées through Oct. 1.
Where: 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers (in Royal Palm Square)
Cost: $39 for dinner & show; show only $27.
Information: 239-278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — Broadway Palm eased into the fall theater season Thursday with "'S Wonderful," a pretty but inconsequential tribute to George and Ira Gershwin that sends pensioners in the audience on a trip down a beloved, well-traveled lover's lane. Ahh, sweet tunes and memories.
Conceived by Ray Roderick with the full blessing of the Gershwin family (George was the composer, older brother Ira the lyricist), "'S Wonderful" whips through 42 tunes from the Gershwin catalog in under two hours. "'S Wonderful" frames its story using five "mini-arcs," with action in five different cities in five different eras; each tells a tale of love, set to the timeless Gershwin tunes. (See the show website: swonderfulthemusical.com).
Unfortunately, only two of the five segments (Jazz Age New York and World War II Paris) marry plot, character and music with any style. The audience also visits early Hollywood, New Orleans and an unnamed city in the present day.
While the show entertains, it never ventures to explore. George and Ira Gershwin made incalculable contributions to musical theater and "'S Wonderful" mines their wide and deep inventory with verve - but you wish there was at least a little more depth to the show. That's the problem with revues - and while "'S Wonderful" is a decent entry into the canon - it sheds no light on the far more interesting men behind the music.
Five performers bring the show to life - Jake Delaney, Katie Mitchell, Cassandra Nuss, Matthew Rickard and Kimberly Thomas. They're young, they're fresh-faced, they belt out the songs and do their best to breathe some fire into the standard stuff they're given.
"Nice Work," the New York-set segment (they all have cute names), where Rickard plays an enterprising copy boy on the trail of a female jewel thief, offers some of the best music and visuals. Director and choreographer Vince Pence achieves some wonderful physical comedy by having the cast mime typewriter motions to a medley of "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "I Got Rhythm."
The bit also includes a funky bridal gown kick-line, the up-tempo tunes "Stairway to Paradise" and "Kickin' the Clouds Away" and as a finale - four cast members handcuffed together bouncing around the stage to a medley of "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "I Got Rhythm."
After that, everything - even a blues segment set in New Orleans and highlighted by Thomas belting out "The Man I Love" - feels a bit of a letdown. Delany and Nuss do share some nice chemistry as a lovestruck couple in pre-war Paris; their piece includes "Strike Up the Band," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "An American in Paris."
Pence's effortless choreography - which makes the wide stage feel intimate even with a cast of five - goes a long way toward lifting the skimpy material. Besides the entire first New York segment, look for the charming lover's pas de deux in Paris and a silly squabble between three day-player actresses and a movie star during the Hollywood piece. Stay in your seats for the high-energy "I Got Rhythm" and "Slap that Bass" encore too.
Broadway Palm's resident conductor Loren Strickland works overtime as the on-stage keyboardist. He might as well be a sixth cast member; the pounding beat drives the show and he hot-fingers those keys for nearly every second the cast is on stage - including long, lovely solo segments. Yet, he's the only live musician present - and while there are additional pre-recorded backing tracks - the absence of even a partial orchestra diminishes the true power of the music. Check YouTube for clips - especially the full "An American in Paris."
As a nostalgia inducer, "'S Wonderful" works miracles. Thursday's crowd adored it - swaying back and forth in their chairs, humming softly to "Swanee" or clasping a lover's hands across the table during "An American in Paris." As pure entertainment though, "'S Wonderful" tends to be a bit hit or miss. The energetic cast (keep an eye out for Rickard and Nuss) gives their all in support of the meagre plotting. Pence's choreography leaps off the stage - but sacrificing an orchestra leaves the lush Gershwin sound feeling hollow at times.
I'd like to meet "An American in Paris." Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.