Denver Center Attractions, which presents national tours and its own in-house cabaret productions at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, celebrates Irving Berlin with a new musical revue, I Love a Piano, Aug. 8-Sept. 1, co-conceived, co-written and directed and choreographed by Ray Roderick.
Packed with Berlin songs, the musical is co-conceived and co written with Michael Berkeley, who also handles musical arrangements. The show is new venture for Denver Center Attractions: the first large-scale show produced by the organization. It's part of the Broadway subscription series there and will be in the DCPA's 2,200-seat space, the Auditorium Theatre.
"The hope is that this will have a life beyond Denver," Denver Center Attractions spokesperson Nancy Rebek told Playbill On Line, and indeed director Roderick confirmed the show is being built to tour.
Roderick is the rising director who helmed the national tour of The Music Man (he was Susan Stroman's associate on Broadway) and directed Off-Broadway's current The Prince and the Pauper. He also staged the long-running, popular resident Denver production of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. He's currently represented Off Broadway with The Prince and the Pauper. When I Love a Piano plays the Auditorium Theatre at the DCPA, Roderick will have three shows running concurrently in the complex, including I Love You... in the Garner Galleria and the non-Equity tour of The Music Man, through Aug. 18 in the Buell Theatre (it began Aug. 6).
(I Love a Piano had formative stagings in upstate New York summer stock in the early 1990s before producer Kevin McCollum invited Roderick to stage it at the Ordway Center in St. Paul in 1996, where it ran for 12 weeks.)
"In some respects we're remounting, but with a new set of production values — adjusting the scenic design, and a brand new costume design," Roderick said. "We're making some adjustments, some rewrites."
I Love a Piano is a musical and cultural journey that follows a piano through the 20th century, as it is bought and sold, abandoned and found again.
What is the show? A book musical? A conceptual revue?
"We call it the life story of a piano," Roderick explained. "You see this piano as it begins its life in Tin Pan Alley and it follows along the path of Irving Berlin's career in many respects: Why he was writing songs and what inspired him to write these songs. It's not a 'And then I wrote...' kind of show at all. Berlin wrote songs for Americans, to Americans, and touched Americans' lives throughout much of the last century and that's what this piano does. As it weaves its way in and out of the lives of people, it touches them."
At one point in Act Two, after the piano passes from World War I, through the Roaring '20s to the Depression and through World War II, it ends up getting tossed into a junk yard, only to be salvaged by a summer stock theatre company.
The name "Irving Berlin" is not mentioned once in the show, Roderick said. "It's an historical look at Americans through the hopeful eyes of Irving Berlin," he said.
As many as 64 Berlin tunes are exploited, including "God Bless America," "White Christmas," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "Easter Parade," "A Couple of Swells," "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," ""What'll I Do?," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Anything You Can Do," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Always" and the deliciously obscure "Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil," "They Call It Dancing," "What Are We Gonna Do With All the Jeeps?," "I'm Getting Tired So I Can Sleep" and more.
The cast includes Denver and New York talent, including Carrie Allyn, Stephanie J. Block, Jeffry Denman (of The Producers), Michael E. Gold, Ellie Mooney, Alex Ryer, Chris Starkey and Shonn Wiley. Official opening is Aug. 13.
Designers are Larry Gruber (set), Thomas Craft (sound), Sam Fleming (costumes) and Ed McCarthy (lighting). John Glaudini will musical direct.
Single tickets range $10-$55. For ticket information, call (303) 893-4100 or (800) 641-1222 or visit denvercenter.org.
— By Kenneth Jones