What better way than Valentine’s Day to discover a love affair that was “an open secret,” one that lasted over a decade until one of the pair died suddenly. The celebrated composer George Gershwin, a force to be reckoned with in the music world that spanned Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, had a heart that expressed a “Fascinating Rhythm” when he met the vivacious socialite Kay Swift. The fact that she was married, the mother of three daughters, had a classical music background and was a great fan of the music of Irving Berlin, were in no way deterrents to how he felt.
Gershwin’s immediate thoughts were “ 'Swonderful” while Swift’s were “Can This Be Love?” On Friday, February 12 at New Haven’s intimate Lyric Hall, one lucky audience got to experience all the joy, bittersweet though it might have been, of the world premiere of “Let’s Call the Whole thing Off: George Gershwin’s Romance with Kay Swift.”
The brain child of Aaron Gandy, with the vital input of Katharine Weber, Kay Swift’s granddaughter and the author of “The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift and My Family’s Legacy of Infidelities” (Crown Publishers $24), the product of their efforts is delightful and charming and a tribute to their long ago romantic entanglement.
With a sparkling Merrill Grant as Kay and a debonair Sean Doherty as George, the pair warble more than two dozen tunes written by one or the other or both. Aaron Gandy has created inspiring arrangements from shows like “Lady, Be Good,” “Funny Face,” “Tip Toes,” “Fine and Dandy,” “Of Thee I Sing,” and "Porgy and Bess” and then peppers the evening with insightful anecdotes from the time they meet in 1925, in the height of the Jazz Age, until his tragic death of a brain tumor at the age of 38. Gandy is the personable pianist/narrator who gushes with enthusiasm about his subject matter, sharing intimacies and insights into the “Embraceable” duo. Mark York has directed a “Fine and Dandy” overture to love that will “Jig Hop” it’s way straight to your heart.
Hopefully John Cavaliere, Lyric Hall’s dedicated producer and owner, will schedule “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” again quickly and often for “this whole thing” shouldn’t be taken away from you or me. Even Cole Porter would be swift to admit that it’s “Delightful, Delicious and Delovely."