Winter Park Playhouse's latest production, "Steppin' Out With Irving Berlin," is a cozy trip down Memory Lane expertly designed to play on audience members' nostalgia and emotions.
Playhouse artistic director Roy Alan conceived the show, which was written by Todd Allen Long with musical arrangements by Chris Leavy.
The familiar opening melody of "God Bless America" leads off the overture, before it moves into "Easter Parade" — and we're off through a catalog of Berlin's many, many hits.
It's estimated that Berlin, who died in 1989 at the age of 101, wrote about 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and nearly as many movies.
The revue is presented in the old-fashioned Vaudevillian style of Berlin's era: performers coyly peeking out from behind the curtains, a big kickline, a bit of tap dance, some corny comedy. To my taste, the mugging at times threatens to overpower the simple beauty of the songs — but a matinee audience ate it right up.
The best comedy bits tackle the age-old battle of the sexes. Candace Neal batting her eyes at Long as she teasingly croons "If You Don't Like My Peaches," or Long gleefully celebrating his freedom in "My Wife's Gone to the Country."
Neal, a la Ethel Merman, also makes the most of a brassy "Hostess With the Mostes' On the Ball."
But director Rob Winn Anderson's comedic staging of "Heatwave" is at odds with Leavy's sexy arrangement. Similarly, Priscilla Bagley's performance of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" tries to tug at the heartstrings but get laughs too, provoking contradictory emotions.
Bagley fares better in two other tearjerkers — "Suppertime," in which a wife tries to prepare a meal after her husband leaves her, and a poignantly staged "The Best Thing for You (Would Be Me)," during which the object of her affection canoodles with another.
Most songs, however, are upbeat — giving Roy Alan a chance to stylishly tap on numbers such as "Steppin' Out (With My Baby)." Natalie Cordone makes a lovely partner for him in graceful ballroom dances, as well.
Cordone and Victor Souffrant have fun with the Charleston in a military-themed number that includes "Shakin' the Blues Away," "This is the Army" and a female trio on a tightly harmonized "Any Bonds Today."
That segment, of course, leads into "God Bless America," which like "Puttin' on the Ritz" and "White Christmas" later, include an audience singalong. I would rather have heard more from the professional singers — but it was likely a foregone conclusion by the creative team that audience members wouldn't be able to resist Berlin's best-loved tunes.
'Steppin' Out With Irving Berlin'
• What: A revue of Irving Berlin songs with dancing
• Length: 1:50, including intermission
• When: Nov. 29-Dec. 15. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. on two Thursdays, Nov. 29 and Dec. 13; and "Wacky Wednesday" show at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12.
• Where: Winter Park Playhouse, 711-C Orange Ave., Winter Park.
• Cost: $38 evenings; $35 seniors; $28 matinees and "Wacky Wednesday"; $25 students 25 and younger and entertainment-industry professionals
• Call: 407-645-0145
• Online: winterparkplayhouse.org