Nostalgia Abounds In TAP’s ‘I Love a Piano’

I Love a Piano currently runs at the Third Avenue Playhouse, a Stage Door Theatre musical revue of the early songs of Irving Berlin conceived and directed by James Valcq, co-artistic director at TAP. The show features a piano center stage around which Berlin’s songs are performed by four costumed actors, including the director, who not only plays the keyboard but sings and dances as well.

Berlin was born in 1888 to parents who immigrated to New York to escape religious persecution in Russia. He published his first song in 1907, wrote 1,500 during his 60-year career, and when he passed away in 1989, was regarded as one of the greatest songwriters in America. Among his hits are “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Blue Skies,” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” tunes now more likely to be hummed by those of a certain age.

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin. Submitted photo.

Valcq narrowed song choices to 50 for his revue, concentrating on the early part of the 20th century, grouping them according to themes, resulting in, he wrote, “not a story in the linear sense” but each song serving as “a vivid snapshot and the whole show as a treasured photograph album.”

Berlin’s song “I Love a Piano” not only names the revue, but begins the show, as the singers provide a brief introduction to the composer’s life. The first act continues with sections labeled The Melting Pot, Vaudeville, and Ragtime. Act two features The Great War (WWI) and The (Ziegfeld) Follies.

Valcq crafted his musical well, a high energy and fast paced production with a nearly seamless blend of songs. He is joined by Cynthia Cobb, Katherine Duffy (Stage Door’s artist in residence), and Ryan Patrick Shaw (artistic associate at TAP), all singing and dancing and grinning like troopers.

The performers’ costumes suggest the first three decades of the last century, and along with props and the carefully choreographed movement, underscore impressive singing and dancing.

Highlights of the show include Duffy’s humorous rendition of, “You’d Be Surprised,” her voice and mannerisms capturing the innocent ingenue sexiness of those times. Likewise, Shaw offers a hardy All-American earnestness in tunes such as “Dear Mayme, I Love You.”

Cobb’s lyrical voice soars, at times soulful as in her emotional performance of Berlin’s classic, “What’ll I Do.”

I Love a piano

Cynthia Cobb, Ryan Patrick Shaw, Katherine Duffy and James Valcq. Photo by Edward DiMaio.

However, Valcq steals the show, not only with his keyboard skills, but with his vocal and tap dancing talent. He amused the audience with his elfin antics, singing “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” and his quiet sensitivity in, “When I Leave This World Behind.”

While a number of the tunes in the show are among Berlin’s lesser known works, several continue to be a part of popular culture, including “Play a Simple Melody,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.” But even those old tunes new to the ears of the audience are equally enjoyable both because of their novelty and the quality of this performance.

While I Love a Piano stands comfortably on its own as entertainment, those who are nostalgia buffs, fans of old movies and early recordings, will especially appreciate the show. Nonetheless, everyone will smile at this visit to a time when life seemed simpler and more innocent, when boys got their girls and endings were almost always happy.

Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano runs through Oct. 18, 7:30 pm Wednesday through Saturday evenings, and 2 pm Sunday. For information and tickets, visit or call 920.743.1760.

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