Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret currently offers what it bills as an “all-singing, all-dancing” show. Can a show be “all” of anything twice? Dialogue crops up too. . Moreover this slapdash revue, S’Wonderful-The New Gershwin Musical, features not one but five “mini-musicals.” Even the promotional material needs work. Think of it as a revue.
If this world-premiering item, in its present form and condition, goes to some other town it certainly won’t do much credit to CLO.
CLO did get authorization from the Gershwin estate to produce director Ray Roderick’s concept of a vehicle featuring more than 40 songs by George and Ira. Why not? That’s a nice chunk of change royalty-wise. And Roderick’s apparent intention suggests good possibilities. This claims to be “inspired by the real events occurring in and around the lives of the brothers” according to the program book. That means that they got involved with a newspaper reporter pursuing a shoplifter in New York in 1916 when the Gershwins were in the teens: mini-musical #1. Or experienced the break-up of a romance between a nightclub singer and her boyfriend in New Orleans in the 1950s when George was dead: mini-musical #4. Or that both are still alive, given that # 5 takes place in “here and now” where a young man falls in love with another young man. Yes, there were always rumors about George being gay, but there’s no rumor that he didn't die.
Still, if someone creative had written a script with substance about the brothers’ lives or verbally, perhaps with narration, tried to justify both the above claim and the premise, this could be something original and interesting. Instead it remains a relentlessly cheery, breathless rush through too many songs, presumably, though marginally related to the tiny themes of the mini-musicals.
As for the singing, the cast accurately vocalizes everything, able to seem effortless while executing Vince Pesce’s primitive choreography. As for interpretation, nearly every song is delivered uncolored and uninflected by specific interpretation. Don’t blame the cast, though, they haven’t got time to concentrate on that; they also have constant costume changes. It’s as if Roderick thought that the songs can sell themselves. Nonetheless, once or twice, Montaja Simmons exhibits genuine personality in her delivery.
To add to the misguided generic qualities of this show, the actors are given one character name each in the program book, despite that fact that they portray different characters in the mini-musicals.
Occasionally more than one person sings at the same time and that comes across really well. But after a while, with only Deana Muro at the piano, the sound of the show becomes thin. Not that that’s Muro’s fault. She plays with verse, dash, style and skill, knocking out the notes, non-stop including parts of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris.” She deserves accolades.
Roderick, on the other hand, should try creating a good show, instead of thinking, apparently, that the name Gershwin attached to anything will fill his and his investors pockets. Despite his evidently extensive professional theatre credits, this looks like something he amateurishly dashed off in his spare time.
S’Wonderful continues through September 5th at CLO Cabaret 655 Penn Avenue, Downtown, 412-456-6666 or PittsburghCLO.org