“Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood,” a York Theatre production, may be playing in Manhattan. But it’s well worth the trip to see this vibrant musical, with six outstanding singer-dancers and a hot-shot orchestra that pumps up the audience along with the cast. It’s also a world-premiere show.
You’ll be applauding with your hands and feet.
Conceived by storied choreographer Randy Skinner, there’s a local angle here, too.
Mary Giattino, who owns Stage Door School of Dance in Patchogue, is the associate director/choreographer of this dazzling production. Giattino has worked with Skinner on numerous Broadway and also Gateway shows, as well as on national tours.
The concept follows Berlin’s career trajectory with wonderful projections illustrating his story and narrations from the actors, starting with “The Jazz Singer,” where he wrote the popular “Blue Skies.”
It’s an 80-minute show with no intermission of his most famous songs, currently playing at the Theater at St. Jean, 150 East 76th Street, a charming, intimate theater and stage. (There’s not a bad seat in the house. It’s also the temporary home for York Theatre, which is being renovated due to a flood.)
Twenty-four numbers are seamlessly incorporated, with inclusions about Berlin’s savvy business acumen, his time writing for Broadway and Hollywood, and writing style. (He wrote from midnight to 6 a.m. and created more than 1,500 songs. Accolades include an Oscar, and Tony, Grammy, and Congressional Medal of Honor awards.)
While we can’t give an account of the full roster, here are some fabulous gems.
“The Piccolino” from the movie “Top Hat” is a glorious up-tempo song danced and sung by Phillip Attmore and Melanie Moore. “That number is choreographed by Randy,” Giattino said. “It is a beautiful, fun, energetic, cardiovascular number and the original one with Randy’s spin. Melanie Moore is just a star and she can do anything you throw at her. Phillip and she are great friends and it was a lot of fun paying homage to the original.”
Joseph Mederios played the suitor longing “to be in his [rival’s] place” in “Change Partners,” a romantic, touching song where he reaches out to his beloved as she dances, hoping she’ll notice him.
“Phillip Attmore and Victoria Byrd dance in that one,” explained Giattino. “It’s beautiful and Joseph is such a fine actor. It’s a beautiful moment in the show.”
Mederios also skillfully enacts Berlin in various scenes.
And wow! About “The Yam,” a breakout production number that has Attmore, Jeremy Benton, Byrd, Kaitlyn Davidson, Mederios and Moore tapping their feet in dizzying expertise.
(Did I see angels on stage joining them? I think I really did!)
“Again, Randy paid homage to the original Yam Dance from the movie ‘Carefree,’” Giattino said. “It takes so much energy and attack to bring it to life. It’s a number you have to go full tilt. The whole number is about… yams. We were laughing when we first heard it. It’s a fun, silly number.”
In “Drum Crazy” from the “Easter Parade,” drums/percussion wizard Louis B. Crocco pounds out his tempo while Attmore, Benton and Mederios respond with taps. Crocco is joined by music director and pianist David Hancock Turner, Noelle Rueschman on Reed 1, Amy Griffiths on Reed 2, and Joseph Wallace on bass. They are superb in every number, but really wail it out joyfully in this one. “It’s a tap dancer’s dream to learn and perform,” Giattino admitted. “The relationship between the drummer, Louis, the back-and-forth between the tappers, and then to bring in the rhythm with the rest, there’s smoke coming off their heads. It’s a hard number to learn and they are the best tap dancers in New York.”
Kudos also to Kaitlyn Davidson for her sultry, heartfelt “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” a song from the “White Christmas” movie originally sung by Rosemary Clooney.
Giattino explained that an early production played originally at the 92nd Street Y.
“Randy first conceived it six years ago and he and Barry Kleinbort wrote it. Then COVID hit,” she said. “It’s been six years and now it turned into something so beautiful and magical.”
Her role as choreographer includes lifting the dance work Skinner had done from six years ago and teaching it to the dancers.
“Randy will sometimes make adjustments and changes,” she said. “There are moments where I’ll say, ‘This feels better on this leg,’ but we work it out. As associate director, I’m also in charge of transitions and flow and a lot of communication with the actors. I’m the bridge between Randy and the six performers.”
Any chance it can be brought to The Gateway? “We would love to bring it to The Gateway,” she said. “I think Scot [Allan] and Michael Baker will look at it. Randy’s already spoke to them about it.”
“Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood” is playing to Jan. 2. For tickets, click on Yorktheatre.org.
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