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THE SOUL OF GERSHWIN EXPLORES COMPOSER’S KLEZMER ROOTS
May 4, 2008
If ever a show was all about the music, it’s The Soul of Gershwin, now at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Subtitled “The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer,” the show gives us a perfunctory biographical outline of one of the greatest Jewish American composers — his early start as a song plugger for Tin Pan Alley, his transition to songwriter and then composer of American musicals, opera (Porgy and Bess) and classical music.
But the focus here is on Gershwin’s music with its roots in klezmer, with its unmistakable jagged rhythms and sweeping, heart-on-a-sleeve melodies.
With Gershwin himself (a bluff, cigar-toting Michael Paul Levin) anchoring proceedings on stage, the show spotlights some of the great Gershwin songs —“The Man I Love,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “ ’S Wonderful” and, of course, “I Got Rhythm.”
The Soul of Gershwin also draws interesting parallels (without pushing things very far) between klezmer and jazz/blues, with its similar penchant for syncopation and improvisation.
The excellent, strong-voiced Robert Marinoff, who has strong on-stage charisma, handles much of the klezmer/cantor duties while Prudence Johnson sings some of the Gershwin standards with emotion-packed phrasing and sensitivity. Less satisfying were Bruce Henry’s occasionally eccentric interpretations but the spirited Klezmerica band were frequently the life and soul of the party.
But it really is all about the music. And, for the most part, yes, ’s wonderful.