Irving Berlin's melodies have place in history

DOWNEY - Call me old-fashioned. If you're referring to my absolute enjoyment at hearing - and, yes! singing (to myself) - Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies," "What'll I Do," "All Alone," "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," "How Deep is the Ocean?", "They Say that Falling in Love is Wonderful," "Easter Parade," and "Always," then I don't mind being called old-fashioned.But wait a minute. The above-named songs cannot be simply categorized as 'old-fashioned'. They, like Lincoln, belong to the ages. They're classic, they're timeless, they're beloved - beyond anyone's, including Irving Berlin's, wildest dreams. One of Berlin's contemporaries, I believe it was Jerome Kern, who was quoted as saying that it's the words that make a song, but it's the melody that makes it last. In some of his songs, such as the above, Irving Berlin's words and music seem to have perfectly blended one with the other. That's why they've lasted, and should last, forever. . Well, those are some of the songs the theater-goer will hear when he checks out "The Melody Lingers On" being presented by the Downey Civic Light Opera until March 6. Like I said, if you - like me - were weaned on Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" or amused at Ethel Merman's deafening rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" or moved by Kate Smith's ("It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings") "God Bless America" - all of which are sung by the vocally-gifted cast that executive producer Marsha Moode has assembled - prepare to sit back in your auditorium seat and let the familiar hummable, and singable, melodies envelop you. I'm sure nostalgia will let you overlook the skimpiest of sets (a sign of the recession?) in front of you and in the wings, as well as the simplest of ensemble dance movements to juice up the program. But because the songs you've always sung have become musical staples, the format works: the key chronological points of Berlin's long and glorious career are described by his daughter, Mary Ellin Barrett, by his second wife. His first wife died of typhoid fever right after they'd honeymooned in Cuba. "The Melody Lingers On" is based on Barrett's biography, "Irving Berlin: A Daughter's Memoir." Berlin's real name was Israel Isidore Baline who became Irving Berlin because of a printing error. Born of poor parentage in Russia, his parents immigrated here when he was five. With no formal musical training but endowed with native genius, he had his first big hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band," when he was 23. His contemporaries included Kern, George Gershwin, and Rudy Vallee. His very productive songwriting career spanned 60 years. He lived to be 101. It was just recently that I caught "This is the Army" on TCM. I was lassoed once into attending ROTC summer cadre training way back when, but I've always identified with Irving Berlin's dislike of army life in "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning." Arriving for the official grand opening of the show last Friday, I was greeted by an almost frantic Moode who despaired of the number of cancellations she was getting due to the bad weather. She need not have worried. The show turned out, after all, to be a celebration of Irving Berlin, songwriter extraordinaire, that they themselves became part of. The appreciative audience clearly enjoyed the show, and clapped lustily at show's end. Chances are they'll recommend it enthusiastically to their nostalgia-fond friends. In my case, there's no question Irving Berlin's music will linger on.

********** Published: February 24, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 45