By: Paulanne Simmons
September 22, 2022: “Cheek to Cheek” was certainly a big hit for Irving Berlin. But it was only one of his dance songs. The “Piccolino,” the “Yam” and dancing “Back to Back” were all popular, although “Back to Back” was probably never as much fun as “Cheek to Cheek.” All this and more is revealed in The York Theatre Company’s revival of Cheek to Cheek, Irving Berlin in Hollywood, which first opened Dec. 2, 2021.
The show features six singer/dancers (Jeremy Benton, Darien Crago, Kaitlyn Davidson, Danny Gardner, Darrell T. Joe, Melinda Porto) performing two dozen numbers Berlin created for the silver screen. The script, by Barry Kleinbort, traces Berlin’s rise from newspaper boy to singing waiter, to one of the most prolific songwriters in American history (even though he could only play the black keys of the piano}.
There may be a good deal you never knew here. For instance, while filming Blue Skies, Paramount couldn’t fire Joan Caufield, whom Paul Draper hated, because Bing Crosby was having an affair with her. And the tune for “Easter Parade” originally belonged to “Smile and Show Your Dimple,” a 1917 song that failed to catch on.
However, there isn’t much in this show about Berlin’s life when he wasn’t at work (which admittedly wasn’t very often). The script mentions that he was plagued by mood swings and crippling bouts of depression. But we hear nothing about Berlin’s first wife, Dorothy Goetz, whose death left him with months of writer’s block, and eventually ended when he wrote “When I Lost You,” or, for that matter, his second wife, Ellin Mackay, with whom he had four children, one of whom, Irving Berlin, Jr., died in infancy in 1928.
Cheek to Cheek is pure entertainment, especially when it comes to dance: waltz, tap, ballroom. Many of the films Berlin worked on featured the dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and he certainly knew how to make the most of their talents. Similarly, director/choreographer Randy Skinner knows how to make the most of his dancers’ gifts.
There are quite a few songs here many (especially younger people) may have never heard of. And there are a few that are sorely missed. All those Astaire and Rogers dances are hugely appreciated. But whatever happened to the great Garland/Astaire duet, Á Couple of Swells,” from Easter Parade? Still, one could argue that if you put three people in a room, you’ll get four different song lists.
Cheek to Cheek may be cookie cutter entertainment. But the cookie is sure delicious. Cheek to Cheek, Irving Berlin in Hollywood runs through Oct. 16 at The Theatre at St. Jeans, 150 East 76th Street & Lexington Avenue.
Photography: Carol Rosegg