One thing that I love about The Colony Theatre in Burbank is that they keep the place up beautifully and lay out a great spread on opening night. The subscribers and the guests of the folks in the play mingle and everyone was there to support the conclusion of the 40th season for the company. The partnership with the City of Burbank and the quality of their productions is admirable.
Elijah Rock, Jake Broder and Angela Teek star in the Colony Theatre Company production of "WORDS BY IRA GERSHWIN," by Joseph Vass, directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the COLONY THEATRE in Burbank.
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Lamont
Joseph Vass’s Words by Ira Gershwin is billed as a musical play. In fact it is that and something else that may yet to be defined. Director David Ellenstein keeps things moving, but it comes off mostly like a review with only two performers while Gershwin’s interstitials are aided by Orlando de la Paz’s projections. Ira, (excellent Jake Broder), sits stage right in a comfortable chair, occasionally strolling about discussing the early days collaborating with his brother, George. The four piece combo that supports the singing and dancing is wonderful. Four musicians, led by Kevin Toney on piano, with Terry Wollman on guitar, Greg Webster on drums (really intense and expert stuff especially in the battle with Rock when he comes tap dancing on stage in the second act), and John B. Williams on the double bass. Where we were sitting the band was right in front of us. It was an absolute treat to see how tight and solid these musicians were.
It was pointed out to me that in the days when George and Ira were knocking out the words and music in New York City, that the writers and composers all hung out together, thus allowing that crossover from one guy to the next was probably a given. Also, it was these prominent guys who wrote all their music and words down while the hipsters uptown in Harlem just played and played and were probably a big influence on the Gershwins. One anecdote that Ira shared has to do with a major hit that he and his brother created for Porgy and Bess called “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” He told the story of how when the Nazis occupied Holland during WWII, they would broadcast propaganda on local radio announcing that they were winning the war, etc. Then, the locals who ran the radio station would play It Ain’t Necessarily So in English which many of the Dutch could understand. The additional twist is that the tune for that song comes from the Torah!! A double whammy on the Nazis!
The choice to cast African American actors, Angela Teek as The Chanteuse and Elijah Rock as The Crooner may have been a conscious... or an unconscious nod to the source material that George and Ira may have been influenced by. Broder’s Ira, after he got a little warmed up, was spot on. Rock and Teek even dragged him into a couple of their numbers even though he states in the dialogue that he never really wanted to appear on stage… but, he says, “Here I am!” Recounting how George loved the spotlight and would rush to any piano in the room when they socialized stands out as an honest and moving moment as well as Ira’s touching story of losing his brother at an early age to brain cancer.
For those who remember the twentieth century and the ‘Great American Songbook’ that we accredit to George and Ira, this is the show for you.
WORDS BY IRA GERSHWIN by Joseph Vass
The Colony Theatre
555 N. Third Street
Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM
Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
EXTENDING through SUNDAY, MAY 24th, 2015
Tickets and Information:
818 588 7000 extension #15