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Gershwin Tribute an Enchanting Summer Evening At Barrington Stage

Alysha Umphress, Alan H. Green, Allison Blackwell , Jacob Tischler and Britney Coleman
Daniel Rader
Barrington Stage Company
Alysha Umphress, Alan H. Green, Allison Blackwell , Jacob Tischler and Britney Coleman

One of the most  misused words in the world of entertainment is genius.   However, when it comes to describing the talent of George Gershwin, genius is almost too modest a term.  There is desire to add to the description with adjectives like insightful, happy and brilliant.

At least that’s the way you’ll be thinking leaving the Barrington Stage Company’s revue “Who Could Ask for Anything More?”   It’s a pleasant, relaxing 75-minute revue of Gershwin’s music. Presented without an intermission, it will leave you appreciating both Gershwin’s talents and the joy that comes from experiencing musical theater.

What is fascinating about the revue and Gershwin’s legacy is that few of the songs are what are thought of as show-stoppers.   Few excite you to the point where you want to leap to your feet and either dance or applaud.  But, almost every single number will evoke a pleasant memory and a happy thought.

The opening overture of “Rhapsody in Blue”  immediately sets the tone for the evening.  Soon you are relating to songs like “S’Wonderful,” “Somebody Loves Me,” “But Not For Me,” “They All Laughed (at Christopher Columbus) and “I Got a Crush on You.”  You might not know what show they are from, but you will remember the first time you heard them.

That’s probably because as this revue points out, Gershwin was a romantic.  Most of the songs are about love.   Some find the sincere joy that comes with being in love, like Alysha Umphress rendition of “The Man I Love,” or Alan H. Green breaking your heart with “Love Walked In.”

Several find the comedy of mismatched partners, while others touch on the regret of a lost love.   Jacob Tischler and Umphress are delightful in “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” as they disagree on the pronunciation of tomatoes and potatoes.   Allison Blackwell and Green do a bittersweet take on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” reminding the audience this is a breakup song.

Performed under a tent setting on the grounds of Barrington Stage’s production center at 34 Laurel Street, there is a comfortable intimacy that helps you focus on the lyrics as well as the music.  A great deal of credit for the songs being so clever and memorable must go to George’s brother and lyric writer, Ira. Additionally, DuBose Heyward, who wrote the original book and contributed lyrics for Gershwin’s masterpiece, “Porgy and Bess.” 

Julianne Boyd and Darren R. Cohen, who created “Who Could Ask For Anything More” do a marvelous job of mixing the sensitive and touching with the light and frothy.  Boyd also shines as the director who keeps the numbers flowing and Cohen, as musical director, leads a terrific five-piece band placed in the rear of the art-deco designed set.   

The five-person cast is also excellent.  Green is a virile presence throughout and his powerful voice and lyrical clarity are hypnotizing.  Umphress has an enchanting voice, a pleasing personality and in several numbers, she shows a special gift for scat.  

Tischler always finds a touch of comedy or creates a clever moment to add lightness to his songs.  Britney Coleman adds to her attractive fun, sassy persona with the charming way she delivers a song.    

Blackwell’s rich delivery often transforms the Broadway musical into opera-like moments.  Her version of “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” is poignant and the most beautiful moment of the night.

As for poignant - the final song of the show is the last song Gershwin wrote.  “Our Love is Here to Stay” is not only a beautiful finale to a brilliant career, it is even more touching to realize that Gershwin died of a brain tumor at age 38.   This early loss makes his contributions to musical theater that much greater and with this revue Barrington Stage offers a heartfelt but entertaining tribute to his memory and genius.

It’s a great way to spend a summer night.  It continues at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield through July 3.  For tickets and schedule go to barrringonstageco.org or call 413-236-8888.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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