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Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood

A return engagement of an absolute knockout Irving Berlin revue demonstrates how even the lesser known gems from his Hollywood film heyday affirm his unequivocal genius.   

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Danny Gardner, Melinda Porto, Darrell T. Joe, Darien Crago, Jeremy Benton and Kaitlyn Davidson in a scene from The York Theatre Company’s “Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood” at the Theatre at St. Jean’s (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Tony Marinelli

Tony Marinelli, Critic

From the moment the lights go up on stage and wing panels filled with projections of lit-up movie theatre marquees of Irving Berlin film titles appear to the strains of the classic “Blue Skies,” the audience knows it is in for a treat. In Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood, six outstanding performers and a five-member stage orchestra have us enthralled for about 90 minutes of sheer joy.

As conceived, directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner, who was also part of the creative team that brought the stage version of the 1954 classic Irving Berlin’s White Christmas to Broadway, Cheek to Cheek is a welcome addition to The York Theatre’s homages to Broadway and film composers. They strike gold again with this charming revue that focuses on the lesser known classic songs from the decades of Berlin moving seamlessly from movie lot to movie lot. The very talented Jeremy Benton and Kaitlyn Davidson, returning from the original run of this show, are joined by the radiant Darien Crago, Danny Gardner, Darrell T. Joe and Melinda Porto. The entire cast is made up of consummate singer-dancers, each featured in dance numbers and/or their own solo songs.

Darrell T. Joe, Darien Crago, Kaitlyn Davidson and Jeremy Benton in a scene from The York Theatre Company’s “Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

The dance numbers, (and there are many of them), are breathtaking. From the top of the show are “Let Yourself Go,” a tap number from the 1936 Follow the Fleet to “Cheek to Cheek,” a duet for the stunning Kaitlyn Davidson and Jeremy Benton, from the 1935 Top Hat to “My Walking Stick,” a duet for the nimble-footed Danny Gardner and Jeremy Benton, from the 1938 Alexander’s Ragtime Band to “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” a rousing number for Jeremy Benton, Darien Crago and company from the 1954 White Christmas to “Drum Crazy,” a fun number for the three men from the 1948 Easter Parade to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” another classic from Follow the Fleet, here used as the revue’s finale for the three couples in ballroom attire and hauntingly lit in shadow.

James Morgan’s scenic design and Brad Peterson’s projection design clearly plant us in an era when movies were movies. Nicole Wee’s costume design for the show is a paean to the fashions of the 1930’s and 1940’s, with particular attention to how the movement of the fabrics glorifies the lines of the dancers. Jason Kantrowitz’s lighting for the show is evocative of the period and his subtle use of shadows creates shifts in moods beautifully.

Melinda Porto, Darien Crago and Kaitlyn Davidson in a scene from The York Theatre Company’s “Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

It would be misguided for anyone to think these lesser known songs are akin to a program of also-rans. It would be more appropriate to say Irving Berlin’s cutting room floor had enough gems to fill the scores of hundreds of movie musicals. Toward the end of his career, there was a planned movie musical based on his life to be called Say It with Music. Changes in taste, and, more importantly, changes in studio heads forced the project to be scrapped. At the time, Berlin’s total song catalog numbered more than 1,500.

His songs are superb vehicles for the very able cast.  Melinda Porto shines in “Reaching for the Moon” from the 1930 movie of the same name and “Better Luck Next Time” from the 1948 Easter Parade, Darrell T. Joe does his homage to Fred Astaire in “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” from Follow the Fleet and “Change Partners” from the 1938 Carefree, Jeremy Benton’s rendition of “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For” from the 1942 Holiday Inn and Darien Crago’s heartfelt take on “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?” from Top Hat are standouts.

Jeremy Benton, Darrell T. Joe and Danny Gardner in a scene from The York Theatre Company’s “Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Kaitlyn Davidson stops the show with the requisite torch songs “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” from Holiday Inn and “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” from the 1954 White Christmas. The show has been blessed with vocal arrangements and orchestrations by Fred Lassen and musical direction and additional orchestrations by David Hancock Turner.

Outbreaks of Covid in the original company of Cheek to Cheek robbed a lot of dedicated theatregoers of the chance to see this show last winter. Thankfully the York Theatre Company was able to remount this endearing crowd-pleaser.

Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood (through October 16, 2022)

The York Theatre Company, in association with Riki Kane Larimer

Theatre at St. Jean’s, 150 East 76th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.ci.ovationtix.com

Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission

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Tony Marinelli
About Tony Marinelli (12 Articles)
Tony Marinelli is an actor, playwright, director, arts administrator, and now critic. He received his B.A. and almost finished an MFA from Brooklyn College in the golden era when Benito Ortolani, Howard Becknell, Rebecca Cunningham, Gordon Rogoff, Marge Linney, Bill Prosser, Sam Leiter, Elinor Renfield, and Glenn Loney numbered amongst his esteemed professors. His plays I find myself here, Be That Guy (A Cat and Two Men), and …and then I meowed have been produced by Ryan Repertory Company, one of Brooklyn’s few resident theatre companies.
Contact: Website

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