Wick Theatre Opens 10th Season with ‘I Love a Piano,’ Musical Tribute to Irving Berlin

No one loved a piano more than Irving Berlin, the brilliant American composer who penned a vast array of memorable tunes during his 101 years of life, every one appealing to a public that loved his elegance and adored his ability to gather musical notes into magical forms of entertainment.

Many of his melodies took a patriotic turn and praised the USA – particularly at times when Americans were fighting in battlefields around the world. His pride in and admiration for America were unquestionably genuine.

Berlin’s melodious multitude of mellifluous melodies established an inestimable reputation for the musical genius whose memory will linger for all time.

What better way to honor the tuneful centenarian than to compile a collection of his melodious works into a production called I Love a Piano.  That is exactly what Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley have done. They crafted a celebration of Irving Berlin music using a piano as the main prop. 

The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton has opened its 10th season with this song-and-dance laden paean to Berlin, highlighting a multitude of his best works with a plethora of songs sung by a half-dozen talented vocalists who also display fancy dance steps.

Scene from I Love a Piano, now playing at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

The production is more than a recital or musical revue. It is a tuneful, historical journey with keyboard maestro Michael Ursua directing the melodies with admirable flair. Famed for his outstanding talent, he fronts a band that includes six other musicians.

“With all new staging and an outstanding roster of performers, we are so excited to revisit this incredible showcase of ballads, dance numbers, novelty tunes and love songs that defined American popular songs for much of the last century,” said Marilynn A. Wick, managing executive producer who produced the same show on the Wick stage back in 2016.

I Love a Piano is chock full of favorites that can be found on a multitude of fans’  favorite tune lists: “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” “Blue Skies,” “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Always” and “Let Yourself Go.”

And that just scratches the surface. Consider others such as “I Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen,” “Easter Parade?” and “There’s No Business like Show Business.”

Berlin actually wrote the title song of this show. He penned “I Love a Piano” in 1915 – five years after his first major hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” thrust him into the tune-filled spotlight. 

Acclaimed stage boss D.J. Salisbury – who has directed and choreographed more than 115 shows across the USA and in Bogotá, Colombia – helms I Love a Piano – a show he is directing for the third time.  He handles the choreography, too.

The cast includes some excellent performers adept at song and dance: James Patterson, Teri Kelly, Aaron Bower, Ryan Matthew Perry, Christine Carlucci and Alex Jorth – who appeared in Wick’s 2016 production. Every performer is a true star, moving seamlessly and right on key through songs from various eras in history, in and out of American lives along the way. 

Most tunes are ensemble pieces involving all or most of the singers. Solos are only occasional, but are particularly infectious when performed, such as Jorth’s “Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil;” Petty’s whimsical “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning;” Carlucci’s “What’ll I Do?” and Kelly’s war-widow lament, “Suppertime,” a tearfully touching piece.

We see the 88-keyed instrument begin its life in a Tin Pan Alley sheet music store and follow it through the various decades and eras of the 20th century – times in history when significant events were taking place – such as Prohibition, the Depression (when the piano is sold for $10) and World War II. It also sashays through a speakeasy, the Lower East Side of New York, a glamorous 1940’s ballroom and the famous Stage Door Canteen. 

Along the way, its story takes on a vibrant life of its own as the vocalists use it as a historic device and on-stage centerpiece.  

Aaron Bower and Alex Jorth in I Love a Piano, now playing at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

During the production, the vocalists perform Berlin’s tunes with excellence and style. The composer’s music clearly keeps the audience aware of the time which the songs are celebrating. Rear-projected slides and specific costumes assist in defining the eras.

Act I concludes with a World War II montage including two of Berlin’s most iconic numbers – the Bing Crosby megahit “White Christmas” and “God Bless America,” done in powerful Kate Smith style.

In the second act, the Canteen continues pumping out post-World War II nostalgia. When the calendar flips to the 1950s, the aforementioned piano finds itself abandoned in a junkyard. Members of a theater company rescue the left-behind instrument and use it in a loony audition for the musical, Annie Get Your Gun.

The piano’s salvation certainly underscores something Irving Berlin once told us.  Music is real, alive and cannot be pushed aside by circumstances.

I Love a Piano continues through Nov. 12 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets are $94 and are available at www.thewick.org or by calling the box office at 561-995-2333.

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