Ellie Mooney, who is directing Gretna Theatre’s first show of the season, “I Love a Piano,” has been with it from the beginning.
The show was conceived by Ray Roderick and Michael Berkeley.
“I got involved with the original production at the Denver Center in 2002. I was brought on board as an actress,” she says. “It was brand new and exciting. I realized how much joy Irving Berlin brings to so many people. Young and old.”
“I Love a Piano” is a musical revue of the music of Irving Berlin, going back to 1910 and into the 1950s.
All through one piano.
“We first meet the piano in the present day, backstage at the Gretna Theatre. It’s found by a young man. As he plays the piano, he realizes its history,” Mooney explains.
As Berlin’s deep repertoire of songs is performed, going back to 1911’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” the piano goes through many different owners.
“At first, it was Alexander’s Music Shop, then it’s sold and ends up in an apartment, then it’s in a band shell, then a speakeasy and a silent movie theater,” Mooney says.
It’s in a swingtime canteen during World War II and even spends some time in a junkyard during the Depression.
“And then it’s purchased in the 1950s by a a summer stock theater and you realize it’s Gretna,” Mooney says.
And through it all, the cast of four sings Berlin’s songs.
Michael Warrell plays the man who discovers the piano. Andrew Zahn is his buddy, Mary Martello is the grand dame and Jenny Piersol is Michael’s love interest.
“They are all wonderful singers and triple threats,” Mooney says.
And they display their talents on more than 60 songs in the show.
“He really is woven into history,” Mooney says. “His songs evoke iconic times.”
And she notes that people often don’t realize Berlin has written some of the more famous songs in the show, especially “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from “Annie Get Your Gun.”
During his 60-year career — he lived to be 101 — Berlin, an immigrant from Russia, wrote approximately 1,500 songs, including what is considered by many to be the most popular song of all time, “White Christmas.”
The show features so many more, including “Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Always,” “How Deep is the Ocean,” “Anything You Can Do,” “God Bless America” and the title tune.
Mooney, who lives in Philadelphia and works frequently at the Walnut Street Theatre (and at Gretna two summers ago in “She Loves Me”), has a long history with the show.
“Every couple of years, someone will say, ‘Let’s do “I Love a Piano,” ’ and I’ll say OK.”
She assisted Roderick on three different national tours and performed the show at the Walnut Street Theatre several years ago.
“Its good old-fashioned theater,” Mooney says. “They sing, dance, speak from the heart. No fancy stage tricks. I love that. You really get to experience those great songs.”¶