COLUMBIA -- Irving Berlin wrote some of the best-loved American pop standards during a lengthy career that spanned the first half of the 20th century.
His hits included "God Bless America," "White Christmas," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Puttin' on the Ritz" and much more.
His songs are undeniably catchy, so it's surprising that Sierra Rep's musical revue, "I Love a Piano," feels so flat much of the time. Part of the problem is the format of the show, conceived by Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley. It features nearly 60 Berlin songs, performed one right after the other in short historical vignettes strung together with a simple story about a piano. There aren't enough mood changes, so the music can start to feel the same, especially in the lengthy first act.
Performers Jake Delaney, Daniel S. Hines, Jennylind Parris, Jessica Reiner-Harris, Michael Vodde and Brenna Wahl are all talented singers, but they seemed at times to be going through the motions at Saturday's matinee performance. Maybe it was hard for them to get excited about the lackluster story.
The show follows a single piano, with a damaged key, from its sale to a music shop in 1910 through its use at a theater company in the late 1950s. It spends time in a speakeasy in the 1920s, goes through hard times during the Great Depression, spends time in a movie palace and entertains troops during World War II.
Director Russell Garrett tries to liven things up by incorporating a slide show in the production. While the performers are singing, slides are shown of period photographs, from flappers dancing to men standing in bread lines. The band, which includes music director Nolan Bonvouloir on piano, Josh Certo on drums and Dennis Dragan on bass, is a nice change of pace from Sierra Rep's usual recorded accompaniment.
Garrett, who doubles as choreographer, has his cast dancing all over the small stage, performing everything from the Charleston to elegant ballroom duets.
The show is most entertaining in the second act, when it features the fun songs from Berlin's musical "Annie Get Your Gun." It's impossible not to smile when you hear the toe-tappers "Anything You Can Do" and "Old Fashioned Wedding."
It should be said that not everyone found the show uninspired. While the theater was less than half full at Saturday's matinee, many of those who did attend rewarded the cast with a standing ovation.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2313.
'I Love a Piano'
WHERE: Fallon House Theatre, Columbia State Historic Park, off Parrotts Ferry Road, Columbia
WHEN: Through Oct. 7; 2 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, including an intermission
INFORMATION: (209) 532-3120 or www.sierrarep.org
**** Excellent; *** Good; ** Fair; * Poor