Few shows leave an audience with the urge to dance out of the theater, but I Love a Piano—onstage at The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton through May 15—accomplishes just that. A celebration of the music of Irving Berlin, who, as famously described, “has no place in American music—he is American music,” the story follows a piano as it plays its way through the ups and downs of twentieth-century America. The musical is not merely a tribute to Berlin’s catalog but also an ode to the American spirit. It is a show that will rouse patriotism in every citizen who loves the stars and stripes.
|Karla Shook, Ryan Patrick Lammer, Caitlin Hornik, Timothy Booth, Amelia Millar, and Alex Jorth in The Wick Theatre’s I Love a Piano. Photo by Amy Pasquantonia|
I Love a Piano opens in Alexander’s Music Shoppe in 1910, where the famed instrument has just embarked on what will become a tumultuous and rewarding life. Whether you define I Love a Piano as a musical or a sing-along depends on how well you know Berlin’s songs, but with more than 60 of his greatest hits packed into the show, you’re sure to recognize at least a handful. If “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” don’t strike a chord, “God Bless America” and “White Christmas” surely will.
Executive producer Marilynn Wick’s daughter purchased the show’s celebrated piano—an antique from 1905—for $100. In the musical, it is the centerpiece of parties, misbehavior, romance, and even mountain climbing; it grounds every scene, retaining its place as an instrument dear to the heart of every listener. From a speakeasy at the height of the Roaring Twenties to an army base in unsettling war years and beyond, the piano unites people with its seemingly limitless supply of tunes. During the Great Depression, the piano turns into a commodity to be sold rather than an instrument of pleasure. After passing Eileen (Caitlin Hornik), who is selling apples for 5 cents a piece, George (Alex Jorth) comes across the piano for sale and dejectedly remarks, “I can barely afford an apple—shoulda called me before the crash.” The piano finally sells for $10 to a certain Mr. Rockefeller (Timothy Booth) who fared better during those years of economic struggle.
Michael Ursula on piano works double-time as director of the onstage orchestra. He keeps the show moving forward with seamless transitions between each musical number and decade, from the turn of the century to present time. Aptly assembled costumes also help place each scene chronologically. The rest of the band, positioned together in the back of the boldly colored, multilayer stage, carries the performance and rises to the heights of Ursula’s piano playing.
|Ryan Patrick Lammer and Caitlin Hornik in The Wick Theatre’s I Love a Piano. Photo by Amy Pasquantonia|
Six triple threats comprise the cast, with each portraying many characters throughout the show, although they typically retain the same names from era to era. The musicians and cast work together to present a particularly rousing rendition of “Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil,” a humorous number surpassed only by the heart-wrenching interpretation of “How Deep is the Ocean?” as sung by young women lamenting their loves drafted into war. Flawless choreography covering a range of styles, from the rhythmic heel kicking of the Charleston to tender slow dances, accents the riveting scope of Berlin’s timeless music.
When it comes to The Wick’s production of I Love a Piano, one thing is for certain: your toes are guaranteed to start tapping uncontrollably at some point in the show. And your enthusiasm is beamed back to you in the cast, who looks like they’re having as much fun—if not more—as the audience. When you attend I Love a Piano, you’ll be surrounded by a crowd of people who can’t help but to sing along to the soundtrack of their lives, the songs that give lyrical significance to their memories.