My Pal, Izzy - The Early Life and Music of Irving Berlin
nytheatre.com review by Maria Micheles
February 25, 2011
Izzy, in My Pal Izzy, is a nickname for Israel, Irving Berlin’s real name (which was Israel Baline to be exact). The show tells us why Israel changed his name: he had nothing to do with it, as his name was changed for him after the publication of his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy.” His pal in the play says the purpose was to get rid of the Eastern European immigrant-sounding name. Another interesting thing conveyed here about the quintessential American songwriter Irving Berlin is that among his musical talents, his best attribute were his lyrics, and he sometimes collaborated with composers to create some of his best known works.
Well, that shouldn’t seem unusual, being that there are over 1,500 works Irving Berlin left us with during his 60-year career.
What's interesting about this musical play is that there seems to be a fair amount of fiction in it. My Pal Izzy’s female protagonist, Rebecca Rosenstein is a created character. (And the Wikipedia article about Berlin doesn't corroborate the items mentioned above.)
Despite this, the two member ensemble, consisting of the pianist, John Murphy, who plays on his keyboard the entirety of 12 songs, and the playwright/actress/singer Melanie Gall, who relates the story of Rebecca, feels somewhat believable. Rebecca claims that she first came across Irving Berlin when she was a vaudeville dancer and Berlin was a young boy singing to make some money to help out his family, but also rising up as a singer, lyricist, and composer. The writer never puts forth that the two had a relationship, but they have some memorable moments in this play. Both are looking for love and talking with each other to share their exploits and/or being exploited by others. Rebecca of course is jealous when Berlin gets swept off his feet and married, at what seems to her to be the spur of the moment, to Dorothy Goetz; but then five months later when his wife passes away from typhoid fever, she is the one who keeps going over to Berlin’s apartment and knocking on his door, telling him that he must write something—and that is when he comes up with “When I Lost You,” his first hit ballad.
Both the actress and character bring you into the created story of the two friends. Gall also manages to sing the 12 Berlin songs, but in my estimation that might be a bit too many for this short span of time; her voice is able to handle them, and emotionally I thought she came through the best with my favorite, which was “Don’t Take Your Beau to the Seashore.” Her voice might have been more operatic than musical theater for some of the songs, but I won’t stick to my word here, because when her heart and experiences met, the songs were nicely conveyed, and one should note that early musical theatre was influenced by the operettas of that time.