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Gershwin's American Rhapsody

Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg

Presented by Louise Westergaard, Stephen Downey, Peter Martin in association with Linda Wassong at The Triad Theatre, 158 W. 72nd St., NYC. Opened Nov. 10th for an open run.

"American Rhapsody," the peppy musical revue at The Triad Theatre, is ostensibly about George Gershwin, but turns out to be as much about its two performers, KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler. Although the songs are unmatchable, the evening barrels along on so many different tracks that the audience may wonder just what journey it should be taking.

An entertainment that begins with an ode to Gershwin devolves into one to his interpreters, who are "both hoping for that Metropolitan madness." The connection might work as a juxtaposition between the East Coast Gershwin and the Midwest performers, for example, but the theme appears too late for development. An earlier idea, that Gershwin's major contribution to American music was his combining classical, jazz, and pop, is barely pursued.

The kid who was "happier in a poolroom than a schoolroom" wrote some of the century's great songs. Framing the evening with snippets from "Rhapsody in Blue," Sullivan and Nadler give us huge dollops of standards, including a clever medley to close Act One. We also get longish excerpts from "Porgy and Bess" and "Shall We Dance," giving Nadler a chance to show off his ability to tap dance while playing the piano.

Both performers are undeniably talented audience-pleasers. In a series of gaudy gowns by Roz Goldberg, Sullivan has a Mae West quality and a voice that, while not always rising to the notes, simultaneously belts and caresses the lyrics. Nadler, though disconcertingly self-satisfied, blasts his numbers with zest.

The smart Art Deco look is thanks to William Barclay's scenic design and the lighting by Phil Monat and John Tees III. Donald Saddler's musical staging is varied as possible on the tiny stage. Ruth Leon, who wrote the continuity with Sullivan and Nadler, directs, but she doesn't weave a whole cloth out of disparate threads.

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