- Photo by Ken Jacques
In a memorable Seinfeld moment, Jerry, invited to a Mel Torme concert, scoffs: “I can’t watch a man sing a song. They get all emotional, they sway. It’s embarrassing.” You start to feel that way watching the singing and swaying in Words by Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook. Then, suddenly, you’re in the spell of the Gershwin brothers—composer George and lyricist Ira. You hear Crooner (that’s his title) Andrew Ableson render “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” one of the most romantic songs ever written, and you, too, become emotional.
That tune also may have been the Gershwins’ sexiest song, we’re told by Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, who portrays Ira and presides over this heartfelt homage to Ira and George by Joseph Vass. David Ellenstein directs the world-premiere at the North Coast Rep, which feels more like a lounge show with a narrator than anything strictly theatrical. The stars of the production are the 24 nuggets from the socalled “Great American Songbook,” all of which feature Ira Gershwin’s lyrics in collaboration not only with his brother, but also with Kurt Weill, Vernon Duke, Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen. That’s the A team when it comes to Broadway and Hollywood musical standards. You’ll hear “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “A Foggy Day (In London Town),” “I Got Rhythm” and many more.
Mongiardo-Cooper’s affable Ira, from the comfort of an easy chair or off to one side of the stage, fills in biographical details and back story for the tunes, which are then sung (and in some cases danced to as well) by Ableson and the conspicuously taller Meghan Andrews, as the Chanteuse. Even with the timeless songwriting, this is where some of Words By brings to mind one of those reality-show songfests, just with superior music. When Mongiardo-Cooper joins in, as on the crackling “Quartet Erotica,” there’s a greater resemblance to actual theater here. In any event, the accompaniment on stage by a tight and toe-tapping band (playwright Vass on piano, Bob Boss on guitar, Duncan Moore on drums and Gunnar Biggs on bass) is “S’Wonderful,” as Ira might say.
Words by Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook runs through Nov. 18 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $40- $57. Northcoastrep.org
Holiday Spirits: In a Dickensian-style original by local Jim Caputo, a mysterious Realtor and three prospective homebuying couples give Ron and Laura food for thought as they go about the business of splitting up and selling their house. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it opens on Nov. 10 (preview night is Nov. 9) at the Legler-Benbough Theater at Alliant University. scrippsranchtheatre.org
John Doe, the Musical: As a patient with severe brain trauma lies unresponsive in a hospital, his wife and his five personalities are in the waiting room—which one is John Doe’s true identity? Opens Nov. 7 at the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza, Downtown. johndoethemusical.com
The Little Flower of East Orange: Ion Theatre Company peels back the layers of an elderly woman’s past, as told by her son, after she’s found unconscious in a wheelchair in Manhattan and brought to the hospital. Opens in previews on Nov. 10 and for real on Nov. 17 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Measure for Measure: A clever plot is hatched to save a man after an evil conservative judge unjustly sentences him to death for fornication. Presented by The Old Globe and the University of San Diego, it runs Nov. 10 through 18 at the Globe’s Sheryl & Harvey Wright Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Peter Pan: A flying boy (played by aging gymnast Cathy Rigby), accompanied by an itty-bitty fairy, takes a small herd of children to his island, where they’re abducted by a murderous pirate who has a hook for a hand. Runs Nov. 13 through 18 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
When Last We Flew: A gay, black teen in small-town Kansas encounters a copy of the play Angels in America, and its effect is transformative. Opens Nov. 8 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Words By: Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook: A musical tribute to George Gershwin’s older brother, who penned the lyrics to numerous classic tunes from the 1920s through the 1950s. Through Nov. 18 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Around the World in 80 Days: It’s 1872 and smart guy Phileas Fogg sets out to prove he can get around the globe in less than three months. How quaint! Through Nov. 18 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb’s Players Theatre, it runs through Nov. 25 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
A Hammer, A Bell, and A Song to Sing: What was originally a show celebrating the music of Pete Seeger became a broader piece about the folk music of social and political change in America. San Diego Repertory Theatre staged it nearly a year ago and is bringing it back now, with additional material. Through Dec. 2 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: A Texas brothel is under a siege launched by a pesky TV reporter. Through Dec. 2 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13. onceuponaweddingthemusical.com
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: It’s the hotly anticipated world premiere of a musical, based on the 2002 album of the same name by The Flaming Lips, about a girl who must choose between two guys and—you guessed it—battle some pink robots. Through Dec. 16 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.ne