Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Coming Back Like a Song!
Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of Kiss Me, Kate


Philip Hoffman, David Garrison and David Rasche
Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
Coming Back Like a Song!, in a world premiere production at Berkshire Theatre Group through July 21st, is an amiable, smart choice—a play replete with musical standards from the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Writer Lee Kalcheim envisions, on Christmas Eve 1956, that three American songwriting stars are gathering in the apartment of Irving Berlin (David Garrison). They return from a meeting of ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), which pushes the songwriters to consider the fate of popular, melodic tunes they have authored and that genre. After all, Elvis Presley and rock 'n' roll have blasted forward onto the scene in America. Berlin, who would live decades longer until he was 101, fears the worst. He has penned "God Bless America," "White Christmas," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," and a multitude of others.

Joining for talk and drink are Harold Arlen (Philip Hoffman) and Jimmy Van Heusen (David Rasche). They take turns singing solo and sometimes together. A multitude of lyrics from songs are presented and some full numbers. Arlen is probably best known for the score for the movie The Wizard of Oz. He also contributes "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "The Man That Got Away," and many more favorites. Van Heusen, the youngest and flashiest of the three men, often speaks of his close connection to Frank Sinatra. He's known for songs like "All the Way," "Darn That Dream" and "Swinging on a Star."

Designer Randall Parsons furnishes a period perfect Manhattan townhouse. The Christmas tree toward the rear holds many colorful ornaments. Furniture and lamps, all subdued, immediately recall interior decor of that era. Even a glimpse of the set immediately transports a viewer backward—into the mid-1950s. Each of the men is dressed differently (by costumer David Murin) according to his style.

Arlen is saddened, bereft since his beloved wife Anya is in a sanitarium. He hopes in vain for her return to health. HIs dialogue usually includes mention of her. Berlin genuinely commiserates. Van Heusen is respectful, but his own reputation speaks reams. He has been known to spend time with prostitutes. It is Berlin, already a legendary composer, who, wearing a three-piece suit, tends to lead. He is not certain, however, that he has (at this point in time) received sufficient musical acclaim.

Gregg Edelman does a very fine job as director, pushing pace through the 85 or 90-minute show, and Daniel Mollett (music director and pianist) is invaluable. Kalcheim has written for theater, film, and TV. He received an Emmy Award for "All in the Family" and worked on television's "The Paper Chase," too. His scripting, as is everything else about the production, is smoothly successful.

Berkshire Theatre Group brings together three formidable actors; they have accumulated impressive lists of appearances in various roles on stage and screen. To watch this presentation is to enjoy professionals who seem to have been on stage together for far longer than a few weeks. The show's final number could be its most exhilarating; nothing more to be revealed here.

Coming Back Like a Song! is comfortable theater and most pleasing. It surely satisfies one's yen for upper-level live-stage entertainment on a summer evening or afternoon in the Berkshires. We feel easy and familiar with the men before us. The imagined grouping is successful, and the differing styles and musical deliveries of the actors enlivens. Time spent with these men is gratifying. This particular production is finite—to be savored while watching.

Coming Back Like a Song!, through July 21, 2018, Berkshire Theatre Group, on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge MA. For tickets, call 413-997-4444 or visit www.berkshiretheatregroup.org.


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