Review: This Musical Journey slips along the way

Chris Curcio | Special for The Republic | March 31, 2005

Irving Berlin, from a larger photo of him with...

Irving Berlin, from a larger photo of him with Rodgers and Hammerstein and Helen Tamiris, watching auditions on stage of the St. James Theatre.

Jewish composers and lyricists have always dominated Broadway musicals. There’s nothing more appropriate than a celebration of their wonderful contributions, and that’s exactly what the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s original tribute From Berlin to Brooks . . . A Musical Journey attempts.Credited to author and director Peter J. Hill, the show has an unfortunate tone of mockery. Hill’s predictable and unbelievably irreverent Act I slams Broadway greats Irving Berlin, several operetta composers, George and Ira Gershwin, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Hill’s attempt to keep everything humorous doesn’t work with the many serious, beautiful, or sentimental song selections that come out strained and stupid. A daffy audience-participation attempt to create a silly operetta plot falls with a thud when predetermined song parodies fail to credit Romberg, Friml and Kern’s wonderful and rich melodies.

Rodgers and Hammerstein get short shift when the six-person cast fights to decide if South Pacific, The King and I or The Sound of Music is the best of the team’s shows. Why debate which of this team’s shows are best when most were trendsetters?

The second act leans to contemporary Broadway creators, but the prolific team of Bock and Harnick is represented by just one of many fine shows, Fiddler on the Roof. Jerry Herman’s medley bypasses his less successful but still splendid works. A bland Stephen Sondheim sequence hits only high points while Kander and Ebb’s sequence overemphasizes Chicago. Including the many pop standards used in Leiber and Stoller plus Billy Joel’s revues is a stretch since these songs were not Broadway musical creations. Wouldn’t including the many fine composers skipped over be more appropriate? The show concludes with a Mel Brooks number from The Producers.

The cast doesn’t always do justice to the music. Only Cathy Dresbach and Tony Hodges understand the comic style while Elizabeth Reeves and Jeffry Walker sing best.

The great musical creators deserve a better tribute.

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