BARRINGTON STAGE'S GERSHWIN REVUE- A PERFECT TONIC
Whether you’re an obsessed Gershwin aficionado or a casual fan of the American songbook, Barrington Stage Company’s “Who Could Ask for Anything More: The Songs of George Gershwin” is the perfect tonic to our anno horribilis. Based on a concept by BSC artistic director Julie Boyd and Darren Cohen, the musical revue smartly curates over two dozen Gershwin songs, deftly melding his most popular standards with seldom performed gems, each stylishly performed by a fine cast of five - three women and two men.
Two features distinguish the song performances: the lyrics preserve in mostly their original form the intros to Gershwin’s ballads; and, perfect enunciation by all the performers. What’s more, director Boyd keeps the interstitial commentary to a minimum; this revue is all about the song. The five piece band is fine. After a wobbly, under-orchestrated, abridged version of “Rhapsody in Blue'' for overture, the band delivers a uniquely arranged opening sequence for the whole company of “Love is Sweeping the Country”/ S'Wonderful / Embraceable You”.
The 75-minute revue moves quickly, with some (mostly) nifty choreography, but really takes off when Alysha Umphress (whom I fell in love with when she played Hildy in BSC’s 2012 production of “On the Town”) delivers a delicious, scat-infused rendition of the little-known “Little Jazz Bird” from Lady Be Good. Unexpectedly, the next number is “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” delivered as a full-on operatic aria by an astonishing Allison Blackwell (who was in the Broadway cast of the opera’s last Broadway revival). Umphress and Blackwell pack so much powerful vocal interpretation between themselves, credit is due Boyd for not letting the show turn into a battle of the divas. Still, the highlights of the show belong hands-down to Umphress’ and Blackwell: Umphress' saucy, seductive version of “Do It Again”; Blackwell’s haunting, soulful take on “Someone to Watch Over Me”; Umphress’ torch-burning “The Man I Love”; and - if I had to choose a favorite of the entire revue -, Blackwell’s lustful, coquettish delivery of “I Got A Crush on You”. You’ll swoon over what she does with Gershwin’s alliterative verse “Could you coo, could you care. For a cunning cottage we could share”.
Stellar as these two performers are, the whole company closes strong, with a uber-energized “I Got Rhythm” that ingeniously incorporates hand-clapping a cappella percussion. The encore “There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon” from “Porgy and Bess” is an apt metaphor for - God willing - putting the past year behind us. As thoroughly entertaining as BSC’s revue is, the real star of “Who Could Ask for Anything More” is Gershwin. You can’t take that away from him.