By Barbara Mackay
November 28, 2008
"Isn't It Romantic?" is a collection of more than 30 of the most famous 20th century songs about love and romance, showcasing the talent of George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.
Director David Hunter Koch is credited with being the playwright, but there's not much of a book for this cabaret-style performance. Instead, singers Jimi Ray Malary and Lori Williams examine the steps so many relationships go through: the initial excitement and enchantment ("S'Wonderful" "This Can't Be Love" and "Love Walked In" among others), which gives way to disenchantment ("I Wish I Were In Love Again" and "A Fine Romance"), which leads to resignation ("A Woman is a Sometime Thing") and determination to lead a new life ("Pick Yourself Up"). Then the songs loop back to the beginning, with "A Foggy Day" and "Isn't It Romantic?" once more.
Malary is a solid singer, although the first portion of "Isn't It Romantic?" suffers from the fact that he performs solo in what seems to be a slightly static nightclub act. But when Williams joins Malary onstage, the mini-musical starts to sizzle. Whether she sings duets or solos, Williams is marvelous to listen to, her voice at times nasal and demanding attention, at times buttery soft. Either way, she lends credence to the notion that this show is about shared emotion.
An important element in the success of this show is the onstage talent present in William Knowles' band, with Knowles at the piano, Yusef Chisholm on the bass and Greg Holloway on drums. Since the set is minimal — stools, hanging paintings, colorful Art Deco panels — the presence of these three creates a lively visual backdrop for everything that happens onstage.
"Isn't It Romantic?" is particularly refreshing in that it doesn't try to establish its material in any specific time frame, suggesting that the love and romance its songs cherish may be possible even in a decidedly unromantic age.