"Say It With Music

By Irving Berlin
Directed by Robert Eagle
Music direction by Julia Liu and Jeffrey Leonard
Reagle Players
Waltham. MA Through October 19th

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

"Say It With Music" is the Reagle Player's tribute to Irving Berlin, now in its third annual edition. White haired ladies and gentlemen, some of them using walkers, flock by the busload to see their community theatre perform the beloved old tunes, and they are not disappointed. I was disappointed, however. Without the through-line of a good book with strong individual characters to inspire them to artistic heights, the Reagle Players look like just another bunch of amateurs-- some very good, some not so-- dressed up to show off.

One professional ---Dean Stroop, the Equity star of the Reagle's "Crazy for You"-- was brought in to spark some of the more difficult dance routines, and he did so, providing some fancy footwork. The Reagle performers were reasonably secure in their match with the Berlin material, so that even when things went a bit awry they were able to have a good time: therefore the audience had a good time, too . But in this easy-to-like nostalgic collage, there's only an occasional glimpse of the disciplined and focused artistry that made the Reagle's summer productions of "Annie", "Crazy For You" and "Me and My Girl" rival the Broadway originals.

There was plenty of talent on the stage in Waltham, though, even if the show never took wing to become more than the sum of its parts. The Reagle chorus is excellent, especially the male contingent. A World War II medley was rousing and rich, with moving solos by Jeff Miller and Ann Ormond. "Alexander's Ragtime Band" really did raise the roof, and the urge to "come along" was well-nigh irresistible. Sheila Ponte had the real Merman trumpet-tone to lend to the "Annie Get Your Gun" excerpts. Marla Jenkins and Jullia Liu nailed "I love a Piano", Rusty Russell put more than a hint of Al Jolson into "Blue Skies", Geneva and John Marshall charmed with the tapping tramps routine "A Couple of Swells", and Margie Quinlan and Susan Carity Conkey blended nicely as "Sisters". The shadowy ballroom full of waltzing couples that accompanied Kathleen Wilson Clark's sweet and simple rendition of "Always" was very effective.

The penultimate medley was the musical highlight: Robert Cincotta, R.Glen Michell, and Rich Allegretto got a chance to shine, while the chorus did what it does best -- just stood still and sang. Now, nobody's asked me, but if I were giving advice for the 4th annual edition of "Say it with Music", I'd suggest -- relax, simplify. Put the sappy narration into the program, and three fourths of the costumes back into the wardrobe. Some of the weaker numbers seem to be in the show just to give the chorus a chance to change! Really, the chorus would look perfectly splendid in all-purpose formal dress. And wouldn't they be better off if they had fewer zippers and dance steps to contend with? Several otherwise enjoyable numbers were spoiled by an attempt at unison movement unsuitable to the assorted physiques and techniques available to carry it out. Also, the sing-along on "You're Just In Love" proved that Irving Berlin's songs are on the tip of the audience's tongues as well as in their hearts. Why not let them do more? Give them enough to sing to turn "them" into "us". They'll love you even better for it.