A flood at St. Peter’s Church has caused The York Theatre Company to temporarily seek out new digs, and The Theater at St. Jean’s couldn’t be a more perfect setting for the company’s first mainstage production since the pandemic, Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood, a song and dance revue showcasing the movie music of the beloved composer and lyricist Irving Berlin.
This show is conceived, directed, and choreographed by Randy Skinner, and his four-time Tony Award-nominated talents shine throughout the production. The choreography is inventive, interactive, fun and impressive. His staging is well-balanced and keeps the transitions moving. The opening number, “Let Yourself Go” (Follow the Fleet, 1936), sets the bar high with dynamic tapping that leaves the audience exhilarated and ready for more.
Barry Kleinbort’s book is packed with interesting Berlin history and is full of charm and wit. Thank you, casting director Michael Cassara, for the great ensemble cast! Six performers were chosen to present this material: Phillip Attmore, Jeremy Benton, Victoria Byrd, Kaitlyn Davidson, Joseph Medeiros, and Melanie Moore. All six actors move through the evening in harmony, both physically and vocally, interacting with each other in song and dance as though in conversation.
Unified as they are in a group, the uniqueness of each performer is not lost, and they individually hold their own as excellent singers and dancers. Attmore is larger than life and full of energy, especially in “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” (Follow the Fleet, 1936) and “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song” (Blue Skies, 1946). Benton’s debonair and limber frame carries him effortlessly through his numbers, in highlights such as “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For” (Holiday Inn, 1942), and “Cheek to Cheek” (Top Hat, 1935) with Davidson and “My Walking Stick” (Alexander’s Ragtime Band, 1938) with Attmore.
Byrd demonstrates her fine singing in “Reaching for the Moon” (Reaching for the Moon, 1930) and “Better Luck Next Time” (Easter Parade, 1948), although she appears physically uncomfortable when singing on her own. Davidson is a powerful and earnest vocalist; her versions of “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” (Holiday Inn, 1942) and “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” (White Christmas, 1954) are as quintessential as they could possibly be; she is a clear standout of the evening.
Medeiros’ energy is quirky and infectious, and shows an endearing side in “Count Your Blessings” (White Christmas, 1954). Moore is a lithe, playful dancer and performer, showing just a few of her best moments in numbers like “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?” (Top Hat, 1935) and “The Piccolino” (Top Hat, 1935) with Attmore.
Rousing dance numbers like “Drum Crazy” (Easter Parade, 1948) and “The Yam” (Carefree, 1938) show just how good these folks are on their feet, and traveling upward to a beautifully sung finale “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (Follow the Fleet, 1936).
The scenic design by James Morgan prepares the stage perfectly for dancing, flanking the floor with simple flats upon which lighting designer Jason Kantrowitz and projection designer Brad Peterson cast beautiful hues and clever projections throughout the show, complementing the songs and their various moods. The enthusiastic band positively shimmers against the back wall, led by musical director and orchestrator David Hancock Turner at the piano. The costumes by Nicole Wee are elegant and classy but a bit muted for an evening of song and dance.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the production is its restriction to Berlin’s movie music. With so much cherished Broadway music excluded, the audience is treated to some arguably less memorable songs from Berlin’s movie oeuvre. Nevertheless, nine Oscar nominations can’t be wrong, with a win for “White Christmas” to boot (regrettably this song was not performed by the company). Cheek to Cheek! Irving Berlin in Hollywood is a delightfully enjoyable evening of theater and is recommended.
Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood (through January 2, 2022)
The York Theatre Company at the Theater at St. Jean’s
150 East 76th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues, in Manhattan
For tickets call (212) 935-5820, write email@example.com or visit https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34375/1635739200000
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission