Cheek to Cheek-Irving Berlin in Hollywood

When was the last time you saw an all singing-all dancing show so ebullient you felt transported to another era by a fresh-faced, indefatigable, next generation cast? This is not to say that Barry Kleinbort’s book is not well researched and elucidating, but rather that it’s so well integrated, it supports and connects the blitz of musical numbers like a proud parent.

Berlin’s material is unquestionably terrific. Most songs will be familiar, but there are a few more obscure, sometimes pulled from a trunk. (All his shows were not successes.) The piece emphasizes dancing with only a few solo vocals. Kaitlyn Davidson’s “Be Careful, It’s My Heart (Holiday Inn), Victoria Byrd’s “Better Luck Next Time” (Easter Parade) and “Reaching for the Moon” (Reaching for the Moon) arrive with wisely unembellished sincerity. But boy is the dancing fun! We see (and hear) The Piccolino (Top Hat), The Continental (The Gay Divorcee) and The Yam (Carefree). Randy Skinner’s choreography is at the same time imaginative and classic, so right, it’s impossible to tell where one attribute stops and the other begins. Consciousness of the small stage is highly skilled.

Melanie Moore, Kaitlyn Davidson

Melodic swirls like “Cheek to Cheek” (Top Hat), “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song” (Blue Skies), and “Change Partners” (Carefree) stir collective memory of ballroom Berlin.”The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” (White Christmas) offers refined footwork by Melanie Moore and Jeremy Benton. Moore is as nimble and light on her feet as they come. In tap numbers she displays the extra turn of hip or wrist indicative of the times, in song, a brightness. “Change Partners” is creatively staged with Joseph Medeiros watching while longingly singing to his inamortata who’s dancing with someone else. The thespian emulates some of the couple’s dance steps as if putting himself in place of his competitor. Medieros is a lithe dancer, an appealing singer and intermittently plays young Berlin with charming ingenuousness.

Jeremy Benton and Melanie Moore

Plentiful tap numbers include the lesser known “My Walking Stick” (Alexander’s Ragtime Band) executed with panache by Phillip Attmore and Jeremy Benton. Benton seems the most mature performer on stage, secure enough to sing and dance without pushing or exaggerated expression. The performer projects attractive ease. Attmore’s inflated (wink wink) facial aspect and overstated gestures would work better only if carried through by the entire cast. And the inspired choice of “Drum Crazy” (Easter Parade) with Attmore, Benton, and Medeiros accompanied by infectiously enthusiastic percussionist Louis B. Croco. Remember Fred Astaire dancing through a toy shop trying to convince a little boy grasping the stuffed rabbit Astaire wants to trade for a drum set?

Jeremy Benton, Phillip Attmore, Joseph Medeiros

Though selections include several from White Christmas, I find it odd that the show doesn’t feature the film’s title song. Those of you with finely attuned ears will notice solo singing is sometimes a bit flat or sharp. (Group arrangements bury individual flaws.) I suggest you let this wash over you in favor of overall impression.  

In my opinion, Director Randy Skinner (be proud) could do one thing to improve the production. The company doesn’t seem to know when or whether to break the fourth wall.

Jim Morgan’s scenic design utilizes panels with projections keeping the latter complimentary rather than obtrusive. Nicole Wee’s costumes are exemplary. The cast is period-evocatively, not slavishly attired with designs that aesthetically work well together on stage and move in accordance with the tone of musical numbers.

Left to right: Joseph Medeiros, Melanie Moore, Jeremy Benton, Kaitlyn Davidson, Phillip Attmore

If you’re a confirmed Berlin fan, check out Charles Troy’s excellent lecture series, From Russia to Berlin, A Century of Irving (with spot-on visuals) streamed by The York Theatre.

Photos by Carol Rosegg

Opening left to right: Phillip Attmore, Kaitlyn Davidson, Joseph Medeiros, Melanie Moore, Jeremy Benton, Victoria Byrd.

The York Theatre Company in Association with Riki Kane Larimer present
Cheek to Cheek-Irving Berlin in Hollywood
Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin Book by Barry Kleinbort Music Direction & Additional Orchestrations by David Hancock Turner
Vocal Arrangements  and Orchestrations by Fred Lassen                                                                              Conceived, Directed, and Choreographed by Randy Skinner
Through January 2, 2022

About Alix Cohen (1331 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.