Seeing “I Love a Piano” is the equivalent of watching a show successfully top itself every few minutes. San Diego State’s production of the Irving Berlin revue features more than 50 songs and all of them are performed wonderfully by six triple-threat performers.
There is no storyline to this frequently giddy musical, but each part has a unique structure. Act I covers songs that Berlin wrote from the 1910s to the 1940s and contains “Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz” and “God Bless America.” The second act covers the rest of the ‘40s and ‘50s, which includes lesser-known compositions such as “This is the Army, Mr. Jones” and “Let’s Go Slummin’.” Act II is a treat for theatre fans as the actresses competitively audition to star in “Annie Get Your Gun,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “Old Fashioned Wedding” and his most famous tune, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” are all sung during this sequence.
Paula Kalustian directs with a light touch and while she does a great job of making each time period unique, her main focus is on the ensembles renditions of the songs. She ensures that every cast member gets his or her moment to shine. Because it’s the first musical theatre production at SDSU of the semester, there is joy to be had in discovering this wealth of talent.
Sounding a little bit like Josh Groban, Cody Walker sings with likeable charisma and stands out as an energetic dancer. His most memorable solo is when he expertly handles the comedy found in Berlin’s lyrics in his hysterically funny rendition of “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.”
Kimberly Burns’ voice is nothing shortofincredible.Herinterpretation of “What’ll I Do” is the emotional highlight of the show, singing and acting with aching sadness. She soars in “Anything You Can Do,” where she’s given the opportunity to hit some unbelievably high notes, and pulls it off without a hitch.
Pay extra attention to Roxane Carrasco, who has the masterful timing of a Broadway star similar to Patti LuPone or Ethel Merman. Carrasco is in total command on stage when belting out “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and is a comic force of nature when she sings “There’s No Business Like Show Business” a cappella with over-the-top gestures. Another reason why “I Love a Piano” works so well is because of the gifted musicians: Terry O’Donnell on piano, Grant Clarkson on bass and percussionist Daniel Doerfler. They play the music with tons of enthusiasm and even interact with the singing actors.
The only issue I had with “I Love a Piano” is an omission in the program. There was no information on who performed each song. Except for a few instances where an individual’s name was specifically mentioned, it’s virtually impossible to identify the entertainer. This does not affect the actual theatrical piece, but it’s a small problem that can be easily fixed.
“I Love a Piano” is both an upbeat acknowledgement of Berlin’s legacy and an outstanding introduction to the above-mentioned SDSU class of 2014, candidates for the master of fine arts degree in musical theatre, including Matt Jenson, Sasha Weiss and Ashlee Lynn Wood. It makes for an enjoyable night of live entertainment in the Experimental Theatre.
Tickets and information about “I Love a Piano” can be found at theatre.sdsu.edu.