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TUNEFUL TRIBUTE

’Brooklyn Revue’ takes a trip down the borough’s very musical memory lanes

for The Brooklyn Paper

Where’s the music capital of the United States? Is it Nashville? Nah! Is it Detroit? Don’t be silly! Is it Hollywood? Ha! It’s Brooklyn, of course, the birthplace of lyricists and composers like George Gershwin, Betty Comden and Jack Lawrence.

The Ryan Repertory Company at the Harry Warren Theatre is saluting these talented men and women with "The Brooklyn Revue," a tuneful tribute conceived and written by Chuck Reichenthal.

From the very first number, "Hang My Hat in Brooklyn," to the finale, "Strike Up the Band," it’s clear this is a work of great love. Indeed, Reichenthal was not only born in Brooklyn but has also spent much of his life promoting the borough.

Reichenthal is an actor and author whose works include "Hit Tunes From Flop Shows," "Those Glorious Hollywood Musicals" and "Welcome Home, Harry Who?" He is also the co-founder of the Brooklyn Arts Council and district manager of Community Board 13, which includes Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

"The Brooklyn Revue" was originally written for a professional playwrights’ series at his alma mater, Brooklyn College.

Reichenthal has gathered some of the best songs to come out of the borough and added a little sparkle and schmaltz. The result is theatrical magic. Songs are grouped by artists (George Gershwin, Betty Comden, Arthur Schwartz) or categories (Oscar winners, number one songs on the radio show "Make-believe Ballroom," and songs of the ’60s).

But that’s not all. Reichenthal has cleverly integrated short tributes to composers and lyricists; a wacky switchboard operator scene; imagined dialogues between such luminaries as composer Harry Warren (for whom the theater was named) and choreographer and set designer Busby Berkeley, and between Comden and Louis B. Mayer; and a delightful monologue by that goddess of gutsy lust herself, Mae West.

Stringing together 62 songs, even with the best of writing, is no easy task. Kudos to director Barbara Parisi, choreographers James Martinelli and John Sannuto, and musical director and pianist Lalan Parrott for the seamless transitions from song to song and scene to scene.

Martinelli and Sannuto have accomplished the difficult task of creating lovely and lively dances well suited to a tiny stage - ballet, jazz, ensemble and solo pieces. And Parrott, with the help of Chuck Sachs and Jonathan Rosenblum (both of whom previously worked on some of the songs), has put together engaging solos, duos, trios and ensemble numbers.

The revue is performed by eight talented entertainers who sing, dance, act and appear to be having as good a time as the audience - Staci Anne Jacobs, Kristine Louis, Stuart Marshall, James Martinelli, Jennifer Mielke, Jim Speake, Anthony Tolve and Maggie Wise. They belt and croon, woo and wow, clown and caper.

Costume designers Laura Lowrie and Barbara Parisi have pulled out all the stops, dressing the men in tuxes, tails, straw hats and bow ties, and the women in long, billowing turn-of-the-century dresses and bonnets and decollete evening dresses and stoles.

The revue overflows with nostalgia. There are songs we remember, songs our parents will remember and even a few only our grandparents might recall. Sometimes the review seems to take us from childhood through the teenage years to adulthood with songs like Fred Coots and Henry Gillespie’s "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Comden and Adolph Green’s "Captain Hook," Neil Sedaka’s "Where the Boys Are," Harry Chapin’s "Cats in the Cradle" and Neil Diamond’s "You Don’t Send Me Flowers."

Still other songs stand out because the performers have struck the perfect note. Marshall delights with Bob Thompson’s "Makin’ Whoopie!" the song Eddie Cantor made famous. Marshall, Mielke and Jacobs dressed in bibs and bonnets are hilarious as they carol Arthur Schwartz’s "Triplets." Tolve, Mielke, Speake, Louis, Wise, Marshall and Jacobs may rouse personal memories with the late Clark Gesner’s "Happiness," a song that typified the longtime Brooklyn Heights resident. Martinelli is exceptional in the big-hearted way he sings and dances in Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer’s "I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man." Louis touches the heart with George and Ira Gershwin’s torch song "The Man I Love." Martinelli and the entire company get everyone on their feet when they lead the audience in Jack Lawrence’s "Round & Round."

You know you’re a Brooklynite if you’ve ever gobbled a slice of Junior’s cheesecake, screamed in terror on the Cyclone or curled up with a good book in the children’s section of the Grand Army Plaza library. But even if you’ve never done any of the above, if you’ve ever wondered where George Gershwin was born or how Betty Comden got her start, this is one show you won’t want to miss.

Walt Whitman, the Brooklyn poet, once famously wrote, "I hear America singing." "The Brooklyn Revue" shows he could just as easily have said, "I hear Brooklyn singing."

 

"The Brooklyn Revue" plays through Oct. 11, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 pm and 8 pm, Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 2-3 at 8 pm, Tuesday through Thursday, Oct. 8-10 at 8 pm. Tickets are $20, Tuesday through Thursday; $22 on Fridays, $20 students and seniors; $34 on Saturdays, $20 students and seniors. For more information, call (718) 996-4800 or e-mail ryanrep@juno.com.

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