Home / A&E / Theater / ‘I Love a Piano’ (and Irving Berlin) at Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret

‘I Love a Piano’ (and Irving Berlin) at Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret

Nov. 8, 2016
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Photo by Michael Brosilow

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s I Love a Piano at the Stackner Cabaret is a two-hour high-energy, fast-paced gallop through more than 50 hit songs by one of America’s foremost composers, Irving Berlin (1888-1989). The show is a testament to Berlin’s position as one of the greatest of American songwriters. 

How ironic that Berlin, part of an immigrant family who landed on America’s shores, would write some of the songs that steadied our nation through Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II. He took the pulse of a nation and turned it into great tunes, including the patriotic “God Bless America.” Berlin’s songs come to life courtesy of a talented quartet: Kelley Faulkner, veteran of many of the Rep’s musicals; Steve Watts, who appeared in the Rep’s production of Ragtime; and Rep newcomers Eric Shorey and Jane Labanz. 

Under JC Clementz’s direction, the four multi-talented actors demonstrate their skills as singers, dancers and piano players. Unlike many previous Stackner shows, there’s no designated accompanist. Instead, on some of the most fun numbers, all four cast members take turns on the upright piano. In one dizzying sequence, the piano spins around the stage while the cast manages to sing while taking turns on the ivories. It’s an amazing stunt that went off without a hitch on opening night.

In terms of the vocal talent, most of the heavy lifting is done by the two women. Their voices soar over the audience with an effect similar to being tucked in with a warm blanket. Before the evening ends, the audience is treated to standards such as “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Puttin’ On the Ritz” and “Always.” Two of the performers give the optimistic “Blue Skies” a plaintive flavor as it’s sung during a sequence featuring the Great Depression.

Not only does the cast showcase dances of the respective eras, they sometimes sing and move about the stage while also changing into different costumes. The glitzy flapper dresses (by Sally Dolembo) are among the most impressive of the authentically rendered outfits. While only one song, “White Christmas,” directly refers to the upcoming holiday season, the G-rated I Love a Piano can indeed be loved by audiences of all ages. This show needs to be on theatergoers’ “wish lists” for an evening of feel-good entertainment.

Through Jan. 15 at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets and further information, visit milwaukeerep.com or call 414-224-9490.

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