Say It With Music 1998

Music by Irving Berlin
Directed by Robert Eagle
Music direction by Julia Liu and Jeffrey Leonard
Choreography by Alison and Dean Stroop

Reagle Players
Waltham. MA Through October 18th

Reviewed by G.L. Horton
"Say It With Music" the Reagle Player's tribute to Irving Berlin, is appearing in a fourth edition. This show, like the group's Christmas show, acts as a kind of training ground for their more ambitious productions of Broadway musicals on a Broadway scale during the summer seasons.  The target audience is the very mature, ladies and gentlemen who grew up, courted, celebrated and mourned to Berlin tunes.  The target style is a finely calibrated mix of straight choral singing and jazz tinged pop. Most of the time the Players hit their targets.

Dean Stroop, the Equity star of the Reagle's "Crazy for You", once again came in to display his own hoofing in "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat", and to help with choreography; teamed up this year with Alison Stroop nee Andella, a Reagle regular whom he met while performing in Waltham and subsequently married.  Some of the couple's honeymoon glow  rubbed off on the group's dancers: "Heat Wave" and "Let Yourself Go" were a rare pleasure to watch, every dancer  radiating a contagious confidence and joy.

 The Reagle chorus reprised last year's World War II medley, with  solos by Rusty Russell and Ann Ormond. Jeffrey Leonard's pit musicians sounded splendid on "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and were as convincing as a society orchestra in some arrangements as they were as a hot and blue jazz combo in others.  Sheila Ponte was even better than last year in  the "Annie Get Your Gun" excerpts, as were  Marla Jenkins and Julia Liu in "I love a Piano". Rusty Russell 's "Blue Skies" and Geneva and John Marshall's  tramps routine "A Couple of Swells" were crowd pleasing old favorites., while a new vocal combo called The Mood Elevators took over on  "Sisters".  R Glen Mitchell, master of comic characterization, put his hands in his pockets and stood still to sing a perfectly straight and utterly beautiful "White Christmas". Waltzing couples once more swirled around the pastel ballroom during newcomer Suzanne O'Conner's lyrical  "Always" .

I wish the show invited a bit more audience sing-along -- some of the audience sings along uninvited anyway, and if more sang the better singers might drown the off key out. And I can't resist complaining once again about the awkward and  "and then he wrote" narration that ties the show together.  Some has been trimmed, true.  But what's left is boring and badly delivered.  A misplaced comma made Irving Berlin sound like an illiterate, rather than merely one of the many musicians who play by ear and compose without learning notation. The narrator makes a lovely mannequin, but a spectacular change of gown for her every entrance is too much. And please, costumers, get rid of the red and white striped taffeta skirts in the patriotic number-- they make the larger ladies look like circus tents.

The last Berlin medley was a highlight once more, and a final dance number featuring Stroop, "Steppin Out with My Baby" was icing on the cake. Unfortunately, the show didn't end there but went on to an inharmonious "It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow" followed by a curtain call that looked like somebody forgot to direct it and that went on many embarrassing bars past a comfortable amount of applause. The pit band redeemed all, however, with a sizzler of a post show set featuring some of Berlin's 1500 songs that weren't staged for this year's "Say It With Music".