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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Coming Back Like A Song!

I write emotions but I can't feel them. — Jimmy Van Heusen
David Garrison as Irving Berlin, David Rasche as Jimmy Van Heusen, Philip Hoffman as Harold Arlen (photo: Emma Rothenberg-Ware)
Luckily we are in Berlin's own apartment and in the presence of three of the eminent composers who helped shape the great American song book: Irving Berlin, Jimmy Van Heusen and Harold Arlen a/k/a Israel Baline, Edward Chester Babcock and Hyman Arluck respectively.

Berkshire Theatre Group's world premiere of Coming Back Like a Song! by Lee Kalcheium, a West Stockbridge resident with impressive writing credits, sends us back in time to a night that is not just about Christmas cheer. However, occasional gift-giving attests to the men's powerful regard for each other.

Having just returned from ASCAP's (the performing rights organization) gathering, they have plenty to mull over while they sip martinis and grouse about the incursion of rock'n'roll into their hallowed turf. It's an assault led by the one who will become the king himself — Elvis!

It seems such an insult to have this upstart, over-night success usurping the careers they had to carve out for themselves. Berlin, Van Heusen and Arlen realize that in spite of the thousands of songs they have collectively written, and the dominance of their music over Hollywood, Broadway and night club venues, that America has shifted to a burgeoning form of rhythm which may have a deleterious effect on their professions. They see "Hound Dog" as the nail in their coffin. And that's when the Beatles have yet to make an appearance.

This insecurity plays out in a surfeit of martini drinking along with over 30 of their best creations. Sometimes the song is just a snippet to underscore a point one of them is making about life or career. At other times we are fortunate to enjoy the entire piece which carries the audience and characters back to the moment of its debut. Songs such as Berlin's "Always", Arlen's "Over the Rainbow", Van Heusen's "Here's That Rainy Day" are just a few of the memorable tunes that transport us back to this golden era.

We become witness to three distinct personalities as these friends and rivals kibitz about the not-always-glamorous music business. Little-known facts about their lives are woven into a pastiche of name-dropping and show business gossip as they remember. They endure sometimes good natured teasing while once in a while feelings are genuinely hurt. But a song at the grand piano smooths over the rough spots and serves to illustrate the history and power of their combined talents.

Kalcheim's research offers tidbits of difficulties and triumphs as the show settles into a rhythmic flow of patter and music that offers a pleasant evening's walk down memory lane of this great American song collection and the time period which produced it.

For a certain age group the songs will revive nostalgic moments from the past. It's a revue of fabulous standards with plot and characters inserted, who brag about success and confess to shortcomings. Though musical geniuses, they are only too human.

David Garrison as Berlin bears an uncanny resemblance, though his singing voice is quite a bit improved over the original "Izzy." It's his apartment, so it's his show and he controls a lot of the evening with rapid fire conversation and witty comments. However, Berlin's cock-of-the-walk always seethes with an angry bitterness that erupts every so often. Garrison's portrayal of the feisty, opinionated and canny Berlin drives the evening's revelations and aired grievances. He is never without a comeback to the other two's commentary.

David Rasche's characterization of Van Heusen as the "lady killer" who collects women by writing songs is charming and believable. He's someone who can never settle down into a stable relationship, though he pays lip service to yearning for one. Van Heusen's rule is to avoid"I love you" within a lyric. At this point in his career he is a bachelor, though never alone. He seems content to run with Sinatra's Rat Pack and enjoy the comforts of a western life style.

Philip Hoffman's Arlen is the softest and most sympathetic of the three as he pines for his wife, the beautiful Anya, locked away in a sanitarium because of mental disturbances. She was confined for several years but Arlen was devoted and many of his best songs were inspired by their love.

Gregg Edelman's direction has molded the three actors into a cohesive compatibility and in spite of some repetitive staging engendered by the script cadence, he has allowed his actors to imbue the characters with a realistic and distinctive humanity. If they are not the real composers then they ought to be.

Randall Parsons' scene design lays the keystone in setting up Berlin's posh apartment where he will live into his 100's with a jealously guarded canon of work. David Murin's costumes delineate each man's personality and life style and sell the audience on the authenticity of the characters. Oliver Wason's lighting subtly follows mood changes as the dialogue meanders and moods swing.

Daniel C. Mollett's music direction and piano playing is perfection as he convinces the audience that each actor is who he says he is. Along with sound designer Nathan Lee's talents, it always appears that the men are accompanying themselves or each other seamlessly.

As with Million Dollar Quartet and Jersey Boys we are interested in the characters. but it is the music that is the is the star that lingers and "keeps coming back like a song!" This traditional salute to evenings spent in relaxation and harmony at the theater that's f celebrating its 90th season.

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Coming Back Like a Song! By Lee Kalcheim
Directed by Gregg Edelman
Cast: David Garrison (Irving Berlin) Philip Hoffman (Harold Arlen) David Rasche (Jimmy Van Heusen
Scenic Design: Randall Parsons
Lighting Design: Oliver Wason
Costume Design: Dvid Murin
Sound Design: Nathan Leigh
Stage Manager: Stephen Horton
Running Time: 85 minutes; no intermission;
Berkshire Theatre Grou,p Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge, MA From 6/28/18; closing 7/21/18
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 2 performance

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