Like many composers who died at a young age, George Gershwin packed a very full career into a short life. From a host of famed standards to one of the most famous concerti in the pianistic canon, Gershwin's output was both eclectic and trailblazing. Austin Theatre Project Artistic Director David Blackburn celebrates the compositional powerhouse with a concertized biopic featuring a cast of vocalists and dancers who alternate in telling gems of stories about Gershwin.
"'S Gershwin will take you on a journey through the life and music of this great American icon as seen through the eyes of the people he shared his life with," states ATP's website, and this does indeed give the would-be attendee a good picture of the show's thrust. It's a heightened cabaret, really, featuring some of Gershwin's most famous standards, such as "Someone to Watch Over Me," "I Got Rhythm," and, of course, the song to which the production's title tips its hat, "'S Wonderful." But fear not; 'S Gershwin is not an assembly line of solos. There are several full-cast renditions of the songwriter's tunes; there's a vignette paying tribute to the iconic ballet from An American in Paris; and there's plenty of tap and other dance styles. While the show isn't focused on dance (appropriately so), Meghan Bowman's fun, upbeat choreography enlivens the evening and adds dimension to this rendition of the Gershwin songbook.
Blackburn's well-written anecdotes do a wonderful job of capturing the imagination, providing vivid imagery for considering the narrative of Gershwin's life and career. Each member of the cast is vocally capable, and many of the performances are impressive. On occasion, a song seems a bit of a stretch or an odd match for a given performer. (Perhaps the transposition of a key here and there would help to support a particular vocalist's special strengths.) The songs themselves, though, aren't always acted or presented with lots of specificity, which sometimes yields moments that feel as though they're longing for something more. For those primarily interested in reveling in the sounds of Gershwin's music, however, this probably won't be much of an issue.
Sure, there may be a few hiccups, but if you're a Gershwin fan yearning for a nostalgic stroll down memory lane, a popular music buff interested in learning more about this musical luminary, or both, you're likely to find 'S Gershwin to be 'S Wonderful.
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