Arts & Entertainment
From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 8
By Ben Miles
The Gershwin Brothers, George and Ira, set the standard with regard to musical compositions that have entered the canon of the American Songbook. “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Shall We Dance” – both Gershwin song titles –have become embedded in our pop culture lexicon. But as Steve Parks of Newsday opined in 2011, “Most of the songs the Gershwin Brothers wrote for Broadway were wasted on shows with plots and characters so preposterous they can’t be revived for modern audiences…”
Now “‘S Wonderful: The New Gershwin Musical,” a Musical Theatre West production, is onstage at Long Beach’s Carpenter Performing Arts Center, through April 20. Created and directed by Ray Roderick, with musical direction by Bret Simmons and choreography by Charlie Williams, “‘S Wonderful,” is a showcase for the music of the Gershwin Brothers – not only were they popular, the Gershwin duo were prolific.
With nearly fifty song and dance numbers, “‘S Wonderful” is divided into two acts, with five scenes. Each scene is a sort of self-contained mini-musical. The overture, which features the enchanting “Rhapsody in Blue,” quickly segues to New York City, 1928 where we hear the sounds team Gershwin composed in that roaring Twenties era, including “I Got Rhythm” (sung by the five-member company) and “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” performed by Harold (Jeff Skowron) and Leslie (Ashley Fox Linton). Next we come to New Orleans in 1957. Here the Gershwin classics “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” are rousingly delivered by, respectively, Rosemary (Rebecca Spencer) and Rosemary and Jane (Rebecca Johnson).
The next three scenes take place in Paris, 1939; Hollywood, 1948; and The Present. In the Paris scene we are treated to tuneful pleasures such as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “Love is Here to Stay,” both duets are well sung by Leslie and Gene (Linton and Damon Kirsche). As we proceed to 1948, we find ourselves in Hollywood with songs such as “Nobody But You,” performed by Jane (Johnson), Leslie (Linton) and Rosemary (Spencer). When we at last reach the scene referred to as The Present, we are subject to foot-tapping renditions of a medley of Gershwin hummers, including “Lady Be Good,” recited by Harold (Skowron) and the contagious “Swanee,” performed by the entire five-member ensemble.
With a seven-piece orchestra, a moody set design by Kevin Clowes, accentuated by Jeff Warner’s lighting motif and the fetching costumes by Deborah Roberts, the Gershwin legacy is honored by this Musical Theatre West production of “‘S Wonderful.” When it was initially produced in Pittsburgh in 2010, “‘S Wonderful” was a 90-minute revue without an intermission. This MTW incarnation is two-hours and includes one intermission. “‘S Wonderful” would be even more wonderful if it followed the Pittsburgh production’s model in terms of length; 90 minutes without an intermission would serve the piece best.
Musical Theatre West’s production of “‘S Wonderful” continues through April 20 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, located on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, at 6200 Atherton Street. Evening performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, dial (562)856-1999, Ext. 4. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.musical.org.