As a musical ramble through the illustrious but all too brief life of George Gershwin, Oh George! On Stage With George Gershwin works well enough. A series of songs, punctuated by brief narratives, tell the tale of the progression of his art, from his Tin Pan Alley beginnings to the very last piece he played on the piano (for his physician) before lapsing into a coma.
In just 38 years, Gershwin not only produced a staggering volume of music, he also successfully brewed his own signature style out of a vast array of influences. He was a musical genius enamored with the popular song: the pretty, witty tune that gets stuck in your head and keeps your toes tapping.
There was much to be loved in the solos and duets of Oh George! Tony Nappo delivered a rousing rendition of “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” Elizabeth Ferraro was brilliant on “Someone to Watch Over Me,” one of Gershwin’s best known compositions. Ferraro also shared a duet of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” with mother Barbara FitzGibbon; their onstage chemistry was a neat treat to observe.
Though there was talent in abundance, all well choreographed, directed, and, for the most part, well executed on stage, at a few points the performance seemed lacking in passion. During ensemble pieces, there were sizzles were there could have been fireworks, almost as if the cast needed one more go at it before they really had it down pat.
And they may very well have it down pat by the next go-round. There were plenty of charming moments to act as counterbalance. Christian Self’s hyperkinetic dance style on “‘SWonderful” made any and all lingering sad thoughts disappear. And this is exactly the intent of the bulk of Gershwin’s music, much of which was written in the economic and political upheaval of the early 20th century.
The love that writer and director Robert Ivey has for Gershwin is obvious throughout the basic arrangement of the show. Diehard Gershwin fans will find plenty to savor in this selection of songs. That’s a good thing, because Charleston has a healthy share of Gershwin devotees.
Gershwin’s specific connection to Charleston, of course, is forever entangled with Porgy and Bess. The cast of characters and Catfish Row of DuBose Heyward’s original novel were inspired by both our city itself and the surrounding islands. Gershwin put Porgy to music while staying on Folly Beach, and the result was arguably some of the strongest work of his entire career.
Accordingly, a trio of songs from that opera is included. Katherine Koehler displayed such deeply powerful vocal prowess on “My Man’s Gone Now” that it left chills lingering even as Terry Terranova chimed in with “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” and Jennifer Goldsmith Morlan rounded it out with that perennial favorite, “Summertime.”
Overall, this is a very good tribute to one of the all-time treasures of American music composition. There are so many influences and musical styles layered into Gershwin’s works that anyone who appreciates the history of song and dance will leave the theater with a smile on his or her face.