Jerome Kern, a celebrated composer in his own right, was once asked about Irving Berlin's place in American music.
"Irving Berlin has no place in American music," Kern replied. "Irving Berlin is American music."
That said, Berlin--and American music--are likely to survive the current (and often quite enjoyable) tribute to the composer at the Santa Paula Theater Center.
The musical revue, a change of pace from the group's usual dramatic offerings, serves up a selection of well-known Berlin songs (including "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Always," "Easter Parade," "White Christmas" and the score of "Annie Get Your Gun."
A group creation, the show takes guidance from co-directors David Ralphe and Natalie Holcomb and musical director Gary L. Poirot. Holcomb and Lisa Rooney choreographed it; Holcomb, Poirot and (sometimes) Rooney also appear in it.
Two more cast members are listed in the program than appear in any given performance; whether that's the result of a plethora of highly qualified singer-dancers in the greater Santa Paula area or the unavailability of certain participants for the entire run is something that the audience should be able to decide for themselves within short order.
Whether it's a good idea to mount a show when your "A" cast can't make it to all performances is something that the Santa Paula people (and all other theater groups, for that matter) should ponder at greater length.
Holcomb and Poirot are there every night, as are Alan Sam Glasband, James Kaspert, Ken Johnson and Ron Rosen. It's the women who switch around, with two for each performance drawn from a pool that includes Lisa Hofer, Cathleen McCarthy, Lisa Rooney and Julie Swain. At no point before, during or after the show is the audience made aware of who's onstage, let alone who's singing what.
Though the show is rife with enthusiasm and good music, some of the cast members are clearly more experienced than others. Holcomb, for instance, is most able to adapt her personality to different characters from song to song, and Poirot shows an uncommon amount of personality in his singing--though as the show's musical director and onstage pianist, he gets only a small amount of time to express himself vocally.
Ken Johnson narrates the show from an unattributed script; he also sings a couple of numbers in a vintage pre-Crosby style.
While many members of the ensemble seemed to lack enthusiasm (their movement tentative) at last Friday night's performance, the three younger men scored with a giddy medley of Armed Forces-related songs. The many colorful costumes, designed by Sabrina Wilson, are a highlight throughout the show, though somebody should tell one of the actors that rubber-soled casual shoes are not appropriate for formal evening dress.
* WHAT: "Irving Berlin: The Man and His Music."
* WHEN: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through July 2.
* WHERE: Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St., Santa Paula.
* HOW MUCH: $12.50 (adults), $10 (seniors and students).
* CALL: 525-4645.