Randy Skinner’s Irving Berlin Revue for 92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists May 2-4
By: Ellis Nassour
Three Tony nominee for his choreography and assistant to Gower Champion on the original 42nd Street, Randy Skinner is artistic director, choreographer, and, something we don’t often see, dancing in the 92nd Street Y’s popular series Lyrics & Lyricists first dance revue, Irving Berlin in Hollywood for five performances May 2, 3 and 4.
In addition to a six-member, top-caliber singing/dancing ensemble, three-time Tony nominee Sandy Duncan [Peter Pan, The Boy Friend, and Canterbury Tales] and Drama Desk winner along with Tony nominee Don Correia [Singin’ in the Rain, who, incidentally, is married to Duncan] will make guest appearances.
The revue will mark Duncan’s first New York appearance since a 1999 guest stint in the smash Chicago revival as Roxie Hart.
"We’re reaching for the moon," states Skinner, best known for his work on Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Ain’t Broadway Grand , and world-wide productions of 42nd Street as well as five New York City Center Encores! , "putting all our eggs in one basket, dancing cheek to cheek and pouring our hearts into a song, and about to face the music and dance, as Mr. Berlin would say."
Irving Berlin, with his rhythmic, danceable songs, had as profound an effect on how movie musicals were made as his shows had on Broadway. He is also unique among his peers in that he was nominated twice for Original Story Writing. In addition to composing, he had a major hand in developing story lines. Mr. Berlin was nominated for nine Oscars, winning for what is considered his most famous song, "White Christmas."
[Trivia: New York audiences can channel a bit of the Berlin style from Broadway’s Golden Age when they visit the Music Box. Now a Shubert house, it was in its heyday owned by the composer. The theatre lounge is furnished with period furniture purchased on European jaunts by his wife Ellin.]
"The show is a joyous revue that follows Mr. Berlin’s tuneful journey from RKO, Paramount, and M-G-M studios" says Skinner. "We’re doing tap, ballroom, jazz, and a couple of his tunes that started dance crazes. The groundbreaking work he did with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers led to some of the most famous dance numbers in film history – songs such as ‘Cheek To Cheek’ and ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’- by marrying song and dance in a totally new way."
Skinner, recipient of DD, OCC, and Astaire Award nominations, will be performing in three numbers. One of the leading creators of cabaret acts, Barry Kleinbort, did the book. Mary Giattino is associate director and associate choreographer.
Fred Lassen (Once, Porgy and Bess; NBC’s live Peter Pan and The Sound of Music) is music director. Dance arrangements are by veteran Encores! musical director [eight seasons] Rob Berman, whose Broadway credits include Chicago, Finian’s Rainbow, Wonderful Town – all conceived at Encores!, The Pajama Game, and White Christmas. He recently played for PBS’ In Performance at the White House, which starred Nathan Lane.
"Lyrics & Lyricists was ideal for creating a totally new kind of program extensively focused on dancing," explains Skinner. "I immediately thought of Irving Berlin. I remembered all those great tunes he composed solely for films. As always with his monumental catalogue, the most difficult task was deciding which songs to do. We’re giving a representation of his music from every major film in which he was the composer/lyricist. Some are so famous they’ll be instantly known to audiences; however, there’ll be a few surprises."
Berlin wrote for more Astaire-Rogers films than any other composer. His songs were made for dancing and romancing, whether having Fred and Ginger "cheek to cheek" in Top Hat, Astaire and Garland as "a couple o’ swells" walking up the avenue in Easter Parade, or the showstopping "Sisters" fan dance in White Christmas.
"When I think of Irving Berlin," notes Skinner, "the first thing that comes to mind is his syncopation and rhythm. He understood the impact dancing had on the public. Mr. Berlin created a world-wide recognition of ragtime."
He points out that dance played a major part in Mr. Berlin’s song titles: "The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing," "Change Partners," "It Only Happens When I Dance with You," "You’re Easy to Dance With," and, of course, "Let’s Face the Music and Dance."
Skinner says a highlight of his career was being part of the creative team who brought Mr. Berlin’s beloved 1954 movie White Christmas to the stage. The production, which is filled with Berlin tunes, has played twice on Broadway, opened on the West End last year, toured the U.K., and, this year, will head into its twelfth year of US touring.
"That certainly proves how enduring Irvin Berlin’s music and lyrics are to audiences everywhere," says Skinner. "You hear his tunes and it’s simply impossible to keep your feet still! Grab your dancing shoes and come join us."
Tickets for All Dancing! All Singing! Irving Berlin in Hollywood are $60, $55 and $25 ages 35 and under. Purchase at the 92nd Street Y box office, 1395 Lexington Avenue, and online at www. 92Y.org.
May 30 – June 1, the 92nd Street Y will present To Life!– Celebrating 50 Years of Fiddler on the Roof with Sheldon Harnick, with Mr. Harnick as writer and host.