Rex Reed, Linda Purl, Gregory Harrison,
Sally Mayes and Kurt Reichenbach
The Man That Got Away: Ira After George
Eugene and Elinor Friend Center for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
Critic, columnist, author and lecturer Rex Reed (pictured) has a thing for Ira Gershwin, particularly Ira after George’s untimely death in 1937. His fascination is the impetus for this show, which is more of a revue with titillating narrative by Reed himself. The show, created in 2010, and highlighting some 28 musical numbers, needs work. Despite Reed’s sincere gushing over the material, the selections need editing. While there are many solid songs on which Ira collaborated with the likes of Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Vernon Duke, there were just too many songs of lesser quality muddling up the show’s tempo. It didn't help that many of the featured vocals were lackluster. Sally Mayes and Linda Purl did their best with their numbers. “Spring Again,” sung with heart by Purl, and Mayes’s brassy deliveries of “Fun to Be Fooled” and her first act closer of the Gershwin/Weill “My Ship” were not enough excitement to sustain the energy. Gregory Harrison and Kurt Reichenbach phoned in their parts.
The second act contained Ira’s strongest collaborative efforts and the show’s best performances, all buoyed by the great piano accompaniment from Musical Director Mike Renzi. With Jerome Kern, Ira wrote “Long Ago and Far Away” for Cover Girl, sung by Mayes. The show ended with Gershwin’s monumental songs from Judy Garland’s comeback project, A Star Is Born. With music by the great Harold Arlen, Ira peaked lyrically with songs like “Gotta Have Me Go with You,” “It’s a New World,” “Lose That Long Face” and, of course, the blockbuster “The Man That Got Away.” Purl and Mayes outdid themselves on these popular American standards.
Certainly the work of Ira Gershwin deserves exposure with a show; I'm just not sure this one stands up to the measure. With some direction and editing, and some casting changes, it has a fighting chance.
April 13, 2012