Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood

Victoria Byrd and Joseph Medeiros (as Irving Berlin) dance Back to Back before the remaining cast members and live orchestra in York Theatre Company’s world premiere of Randy Skinner & Barry Kleinbort’s Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood at the Theater at St. Jean’s. Original photos by Carol Rosegg.
Excuse me, but there’s something you should know before you buy a ticket.

By Andrew Andrews

Irving Berlin is easily one of the world’s most prolific and successful songwriters.

Developing more than a thousand numbers over his sixty-year career, Berlin composed the scores of nearly two dozen Broadway shows, and his creations form the foundation of the Great American Songbook.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Berlin’s work was especially important to the American film industry, providing the soundtrack to fifteen original productions. In fact, the writer often received top billing—not only above stars like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Bing Crosby, but even above the title of the film itself!

Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood is a revue of two dozen songs from that catalog, delivered by a cast of six singing and dancing performers and accompanied by a live orchestra of piano, bass, percussion and two reed players.

Highlighting “deep cuts” from the movies in lieu of their more famous numbers, the show weaves the tunes into a somewhat-chronological narrative about Berlin’s lucrative relationship with the silver screen.

Phillip Attmore, Melanie Moore, Kaitlyn Davidson and Jeremy Benton complete the multi-talented cast.

From the moment York Theatre Company announced their plans in mid-September, I anxiously awaited the opportunity to attend this production!

Thrilled this summer by Mac-Haydn’s revue of Kander & Ebb (The World Goes Round), and now saddened by the passing of Stephen Sondheim and disappointed by Diana: The Musical, I’ve been counting on this show to bring to life the heyday of American musicals that I’d only ever experienced through weekend reruns on AMC.

After a devastating flood destroyed their traditional space, York brings their first post-pandemic production to the resplendent Theatre at St. Jean’s, where spacious stadium seating guarantees a comfortable experience and nary a bad view from anywhere in the house!

From the opening tap dance to Blue Skies (from The Jazz Singer) to the closing performance of Let’s Face the Music and Dance (from Follow the Fleet), the highlight of Cheek to Cheek is its choreography. The six members of the cast are adept professional dancers who can also sing—not vice-versa—although their virtuoso voices are nearly as qualified as their meticulous muscles.

The orchestra is equally as consummate as the performers, and the faultless sound ascertains that every note and every lyric is crystal clear when it reaches your ears.

There’s only one thing missing: the songs that everyone knows and expects to hear.

While many of Berlin’s most famous compositions might not have been written specifically for the movies, that’s where they ended up. I can only guess that Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Easter Parade, Puttin’ on the Ritz, There’s No Business Like Show Business, and White Christmas (still the #1 single of all time!) were omitted due to licensing issues, or perhaps the creators’ desire to expand the audience’s knowledge of Berlin’s work.

The result, however, is that despite how technically wonderful this beautiful revue may be, it’s just not as thrilling as it could be—as it should be—as it would be, if the missing songs were there.

If you hardly know Berlin’s work at all, or if you have a deeper appreciation of his discography than the average theatergoer, the high production value and reasonable price tag are sure to satisfy—especially if you opt for the “cheap seats,” which are every bit as good as the front row.

But if you’re looking for a live revue of Irving Berlin’s Greatest Hits, well… this just isn’t it.

3

Andrew Andrews attended Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood at Theater at St. Jean’s in Manhattan on Sunday, November 28, 2021 @ 7:00pm to write this review.

Next Up:

Diana: The Musical

Lady Di’s fans are flocking to this Broadway show, and I think their reaction says a lot about them.

Read It Now!