Plenty of Gershwin tunes in Words By at North Coast Repertory Theatre
By Diana Saenger
Musical history strikes an added note in the world premiere of “Words By,” as Ira Gershwin (Nicholaus Mongiardo-Coop) takes the North Coast Repertory Theatre patrons on a journey through Ira and George Gershwin’s great American songbook, revealing how many of their songs got started.
On stage, and singing some of the tunes along with Nicholaus Mongiardo- Coop, are crooner Andrew Ableson and singer Meghan Ryan. Mongiardo-Coop sits in a comfy chair on the simple set or from time to time walks around as he engages the audience in conversation about how he and his brother began their venture into music.
Playwright Joseph Vass, who also wrote, “The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of An American Klezmer,” said he began to notice many odd and mundane words or phrases in Gershwin tunes when he was playing the piano as a young teen.
Frames of these words serve as background on the “Words By” set, and Mongiardo-Coop points out some of these unconventional phrases used in the Gershwin songs. The song list includes 26 tunes that many a modern audience may not recognize, but some of the more mature audience members smiled and quietly sang along with the singers. Most notable are renditions of “The Man That Got Away,” from the movie “A Star is Born,” and “I Got Rhythm,” from “Girl Crazy.”
The band is outstanding and includes Gunnar Biggs on bass, Bob Boss on guitar, Duncan Moore on drums and the playwright and music director on piano. Mongiardo-Coop tells the audience that Ira also wrote lyrics for other songwriters like Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke and Kurt Weil. Though he fits easily into the Ira personality, Mongiardo- Coop lacks compassion when talking about the death of (“his” brother) George following brain surgery at the age of 38.
Ryan and Ableson are good singers, but overall, the play lacks pizazz and just having one singer after another singing entire songs (mostly unknown) got a little tedious. Luckily, the great jazz band was really a hit.
IF YOU GO!
What: ‘Words By’
■ When: Matiness, evenings to Nov. 18
■ Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
■ Tickets: $40-$57
■ Contact: (858) 481-1055
■ Website: northcoastrep.org
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