by CHRISTINE SARKES SASSEVILLE
Imagine a whiskey and piano jazz bar fuzed with the salon of your favorite NYU music professor and you’ll understand the captivating vibe of Words By….Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook. The play combines singing with a bit of American musical history and offers a wonderful evening’s entertainment for music lovers of all ages.
It turns out that many of our most beloved and recognizable American ‘standards’ were written by the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, drawing inspiration from such diverse sources as Russian and Jewish folk songs, British poetry and classical music. Ari H0ptman, as the lesser-known lyricist Ira Gershwin, carries the show’s entire dialogue and creates a fascinating portrait of a charming and unassuming modern musical genius who was often overshadowed by larger-than-life collaborators. As Hoptman tells the Gershwin story, Jennifer Grimm and T. Mychael Rambo provide the evening’s musical entertainment, their versatile voices invoking singing legends of the era such as Judy Garland and William Warfield. Along with the live onstage jazz band (Christopher J. Bates–bass, Jay Epstein-drums, Christopher Olson-guitar), under the multi-talented musical direction of the playwright and band pianist Joseph Vass, they bring to life Gershwin’s lyrics and the golden age of American popular songwriting. With George, Ira wrote more than a dozen Broadway shows, featuring songs such as “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” “The Man I Love” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” He was also responsible, along with DuBose Heyward, for the libretto to George’s opera Porgy and Bess. The singing and storytelling is interspersed with photo montages of the era, rounding out the multimedia experience.
Words by…Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook by Joseph Vass; lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Directed by David Ellenstein. Now through December 29. Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Place, Saint Paul. Tickets: $38 and $58. Box office: 651-291-7005 or www.parksquaretheatre.org.