First Look: ‘Irving Berlin’s America’ at O’Connell & Company

How would you spend your last night? Few of us have that choice. Playwright Chip Deffaa’s production of “Irving Berlin’s America” wonders how the most prolific American songwriter of the 20th century would reflect on his 101 years and his place in history. This music-packed production opens Thursday, November 30 at O’Connell & Company. William Group stars as Irving Berlin and Matthew Mooney is the young man who prompts Berlin to reflect on the impact his life had on American music.

Directed by Drew McCabe, “Irving Berlin’s America” is another regional premiere for O’Connell & Company. The script is the ultimate in feel-good mash-ups, with the inspiring message of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” added to the poignant  life lessons of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” topped off with a soupcon of Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park With George.” In other words, it will make you think, smile, and sing along.

It’s a lot of story for only two cast members, one musician, and 24 killer songs. McCabe says Berlin’s life story – a self-made Russian immigrant who  struggles in hardscrabble New York City tenements to emerge as a musical icon – is inspirational.  “It works well as a two-hander,” McCabe says. In under two hours, “two men are giving it their all to illuminate Irving’s life story in a creative way.”

The true star of the show is the music. Music director Susan Shaw has magic at her fingertips with this one. In Berlin’s centurian lifetime, he penned 1500 songs and for decades was the highest paid and most popular songwriter in the world. Familiar tunes like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “I Love a Piano,” and “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody” will have you tapping your toes. There’s even a Buffalo connection (of course!) Berlin’s first wife is Buffalo gal Dorothy Goetz Berlin. She contracted typhoid on their honeymoon in Cuba and died only five months after they wed. Berlin turned his grief into a sweet waltz “When I Lost You,” the only song he admitted was drawn from his personal experience. Dorothy’s final resting place is Forest Lawn Cemetery (Berlin had a white rose placed on her grave regularly for the next 13 years until he remarried) and there was an urban myth Berlin planned to be interred there, too, upon his death in 1989.

“Irving Berlin’s America” will take you down memory lane with great music and a feel-good story. It’s a short-run until December 17, 2017.  Click here, for more information.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.