Monday, February 28, 2011

Off Off Broadway: My Pal Izzy: The Early Life and Music of Irving Berlin

Frigid New York 2011 is presenting over 150 performances of 30 plays in three theatres on the Lower East Side of Manhattan over a period of 12 days. Many of these are just what you might expect from a fringe festival – experimental plays that push the envelope, plays with such titles as I Love You (We’re F*#ked), Saving Tania’s Privates, Year of the Slut, Fucking Girls and I’m Not Sure I Liked the Way You Licked Me! But there is at least one show in the festival – My Pal Izzy: The Early Life and Music of Irving Berlin - that, if nothing else, does provide a brief musical respite from all that. We got to see it yesterday and, while it's not great, it is entertaining and you could take your family to it.

Irving Berlin, one of the greatest songwriters in American musical history, wrote an estimated 1,500 songs over the course of his life, providing Melanie Gall, the playwright and star of My Pal Izzy, with ample material from which to select the dozen numbers she strings together in relating this very abbreviated story of Berlin’s life. Playing the role of Berlin’s childhood friend, Rebecca Rosenstein, a vaudeville singer, Gall uses her well-trained operatic voice to belt out number after number in a fashion designed to remind us of the relative innocence of America in the early 1900s.

Gall eschews such traditional Berlin classics as “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade.” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “God Bless America,” all of which you’ve probably heard so often that you wouldn’t care if you never heard them again, and opts instead for a number of his lesser but more humorous tunes that you may never have heard before, including “If You Don’t Want My Peaches, Don’t Shake the Tree,” Don’t Take Your Beau to the Seashore,” “If That’s Your Idea of a Wonderful Time,” and “Keep Away From the Fellow Who Owns an Automobile.” Her choices are good and, while risque by the standards of the early 1900s, they'd probably be rated PG by the standards of today. 

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