Though he was born in Russia, though some of his greatest hits were written for the silver screens of Hollywood, though his songs are known the world over, Irving Berlin was a quintessential New Yorker. This season - 110 years after his birth - Berlin is being celebrated in his hometown with a quartet of exciting new projects for Broadway, Off-Broadway and even in the New York City public schools. Here's a brief look, in order of appearance:
On May 18 at New York's Town Hall, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Schools Chancellor Rudolph Crew presided over the premiere performance of LAND THAT I LOVE: IRVING BERLIN AND THE AMERICAN IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE, conceived by Michael Presser for his educational organization, Inside Broadway.
In 1996 Presser and his team created ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE, an hour-long school program that focuses on issues of tolerance and prejudice through the words of Oscar Hammerstein II (now On May 18 at New York's Town Hall, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Schools Chancellor Rudolph Crew presided over the premiere performance of LAND THAT I LOVE: IRVING BERLIN AND THE AMERICAN IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE, conceived by Michael Presser for his educational organization, Inside Broadway.
In 1996 Presser and his team created ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE, an hour-long school program that focuses on issues of tolerance and prejudice through the words of Oscar Hammerstein II (now available from The R&H Theatre Library). The presentation was so successful, with over 75 performances given in the New York City public schools so far, that teachers and administrators were soon clamoring for more.
""New York City has been built on the contributions of immigrants,"" said Presser. ""For today's students, issues of immigration and assimilation aren't theoretical - they're real. It's an important topic to cover, and of course we couldn't think of a better example of the immigrant story to frame our program with than that of Irving Berlin's. We're also delighted that this program gives us a chance to share Mr. Berlin's songs with new eyes and ears.""
Though sponsored in part by the Irving Berlin Charitable Fund, LAND THAT I LOVE is not a biography of Irving Berlin. Rather, Chad Beguelin's script skillfully weaves Berlin's struggles at the turn of the century into the stories of three current-day young people, with scenes and sketches that lead into such songs as ""How Deep is the Ocean?,"" ""Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,"" ""Alexander's Ragtime Band"" and of course, ""God Bless America."" Only at the end of the play does the audience learn that one of its four characters grew up to be Irving Berlin, the successful writer of all the songs just heard.
Following its premiere at Town Hall in May, LAND THAT I LOVE gave eighteen more performances in public schools this spring, and will continue in the fall semester. (To book performances, call Karen Rosenberg, Program Director for Inside Broadway, at 212/398-6740.) LAND THAT I LOVE will eventually be available for licensing through The R&H Theatre Library and, like ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE, is one hour in length with minimal musical requirements, accom-panied by its own Study Guide and Teachers' Plan.
In 1933 Moss Hart and Irving Berlin represented New York theatre talent at its wittiest and most topical. Their landmark revue of the previous year, FACE THE MUSIC, was topped by its successor, AS THOUSANDS CHEER, which opened at the theatre Berlin co-owned, The Music Box, and ran for 400 performances. In today's theatre, the hot, new Drama Dept. has had great success in mining the wit and sophistication of the '30s with acclaimed revivals like JUNE MOON and the new, if delightfully old-fashioned, screwball comedy AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN. Now Drama Dept. will give New York its first revival of AS THOUSANDS CHEER for a month of performances beginning in June.
With the help and guidance of Kitty Carlisle Hart, widow of Moss Hart, and the Berlin daughters, Drama Dept. drew together a cut-down but still faithful version of AS THOUSANDS CHEER. Directed by Christopher Ashley (JEFFREY), and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall (Encores! Artistic Director), the cast at press time was scheduled to include Kevin Chamberlin, Judy Kuhn, Howard McGillin, Paula Newsome, Mary Beth Peil and B.D. Wong, with a limited engagement scheduled to run June 2 to the 21st at New York City's Greenwich House Theatre. (For further information call 212/541-8441 or visit www.dramadept.com).
It is the show business musical after all, so it's perplexing to realize that ANNIE GET YOUR GUN has had only one Broadway revival since its 1946 premiere, and even that was over 30 years ago! At this writing, however, a major new production is due in the 1998-99 season. Presented by Barry and Fran Weissler (CHICAGO), Annie Oakley's return to Broadway will feature a revision of the Herbert and Dorothy Fields book by '97 Tony-winner Peter Stone (TITANIC), with direction and choreography by Graciela Daniele (ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, RAGTIME). Mentioned for the role of Annie: Bernadette Peters.
Also due on Broadway next spring - in time for the annual Easter Parade, perhaps? - is Tommy Tune's eagerly awaited stage adaptation of the beloved 1948 MGM musical EASTER PARADE. As previously reported, Tune led a parade to Sydney last December for a highly successful workshop presentation of EASTER PARADE that resulted in Broadway plans by the SOUND OF MUSIC producing team of Steven Baruch, Richard Frankel and Tom Viertel. Tune will choreograph, co-direct with bookwriter Philip Oesterman, and co-star with Sandy Duncan. Following an out-of-town tryout this winter, EASTER PARADE should be sauntering down Broadway in the Spring of '99.
For more information on Irving Berlin, visit our website at www.irvingberlin.com."