American Rhapsody is Beautiful Music

George Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue” was an orchestral celebration of the American cultural melting pot when it debuted in 1924. The exquisite blending of jazz with a strong nod to classical music is still beloved for its syncopated rhythms (Gershwin said it was inspired by the clicks and clacks of trains) and its soaring, melodic themes. MusicalFare artistic/executive director Randy Kramer parlayed that inspiration with one of his own in American Rhapsody, onstage now. Kramer developed his concept into a 90-minute story counterpointed with such outstanding musicianship.

Admittedly, the story is thin with some unsettling undertones: a classically trained pianist (Kramer) wants to deepen his understanding of Rhapsody in Blue prior to performance, so he pays a jazz pianist and club owner (Richard Satterwhite) to join him in his “piano room” (a baby grand and a less than grand upright) for a conversation of sorts. “I just thought we’d play for each other,” couches the classical pianist as he sits at his shiny instrument, leaving the jazz man to the upright. Jazz man was having none of that, and proceeds to share quotes and insights about America in the ‘20s, the people who were making music then…and how and why the notes came together. It’s not racism, perhaps just race ignorance that kept the classical pianist from seeing jazz man’s points at first. Jazz man picks books off the shelf and reads quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other luminaries and is surprised at how much the classical pianist doesn’t know about how music is really ‘made.’ And there’s the heart of our story.

Jazz man’s readings and reflection come to life as the beautifully constructed stage set – the work of Chris Cavanagh –  turns into an early 20th century music lesson, performed by Stevie Jackson, Dwayne Stephenson, Davida Evette Tolbert, and Josh Wilde. Their songs take us from Spirituals to the earliest Stephen Foster ditties, to Scott Joplin’s rags to timeless tunes of Irving Berlin, WC Handy, and Eubie Blake: their performances are visual and aural delights. The highlight: Tolbert’s “St. Louis Blues” was belted out to perfection and her Art Deco beaded gown was just as stunning. Who doesn’t love a fascinator with a feather? Good work, costumer Kari Drozd. Cavanagh made stage magic happen when the picture window of the ‘piano room’ morphs into a stage for the singing quartet. He used some familiar and fun lighting techniques, too, to bring silhouette forms to life.

At one point, jazz man is pretty fed up by classical pianist and seemingly storms out…which sends the classical pianist to the keyboard and a passionate performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C# minor.” Jazz man is still listening…and that’s their breakthrough moment.

Spoiler alert: the performance ends with Kramer’s lovely rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue.” While you miss the familiar orchestra part, Kramer (with off stage support from music director/pianist Theresa Quinn, Jim Runfola, and Ron Paladino) is an extraordinary pianist and watching him play all night was a delight.

Kramer’s piano playing, the set, the costumes, and the snippets of American music history make American Rhapsody a good night in the theatre. It’s a fast moving one act, no intermission, and it’s onstage now to March 27. Find tickets and details at You’ll like it as much as a school boy loves his pie.