Gershwin at the Piano
Zenph Sound Innovations
@Raleigh Little Theatre
Through Oct. 2
Gershwin at the Piano isn’t as memorable a theatrical endeavor as its prededecessor, the Art Tatum tribute Piano Starts Here. Forced to resort to a Plan B after another company cancelled its Sunday matinee, I crept into Raleigh Little Theatre 20 minutes into the performance and witnessed an urbane multimedia guided tour through a series of piano transcripts George Gershwin wrote and recorded of his own music. These were played first by a live pianist on a grand piano (Sunday afternoon, a cordial Phil Amalong), and then “re-performed” through Zenph’s proprietary musical software and hardware, which reproduced the composer’s original performance of the work in real time on the same piano.
The show’s host, music scholar Milton Laufer, regaled us with anecdotes, briefly illuminating various high points in Gershwin’s career. It wasn’t enough to make the show a full biography, but it did serve to punctuate the songs.
Given the Jazz Age genius’ predilection for embellishment and improvisation in his live performances, we might conclude that any back-and-forth trade between a live pianist limited to paper transcripts and their creator’s mercurial variations might easily favor, as it were, the original cast. But Amalong more than held his own, breathing into works like “My One and Only” considerable expression, showmanship and taste. Recommendedparticularly for fans of Gershwin and old-school jazz.