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“I Got the Sun in the Mornin’ ” (1946; Annie Get Your Gun)
“You’re Lonely and I’m Lonely” (1940; Louisiana Purchase)
“What’ll I Do?” (1924; Music Box Revue)
“All Alone” (1924; Music Box Revue)
“Steppin’ Out with My Baby” (1948; Easter Parade)

Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 3 saxophones (alto, tenor, baritone), timpani, percussion, trap set, guitar, harp, piano = celesta, and strings

The collective catalog of what is widely termed the Great American Songbook features music from a pantheon of composers that includes (among many others) Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers, along with the legendary Irving Berlin. Preceding the era of these giants, of course, two more American icons – Victor Herbert and George M. Cohan – made significant contributions to the legacy of the popular song. Worth noting is the fact that of these only Cohan, Porter, and Berlin wrote both the lyrics and the music for their songs.

The easy rhythms and lilting nature of so many of Irving Berlin’s hundreds of songs make them eminent candidates for dancing, and not just the songs written for Fred Astaire. Choreographer Benjamin Millepied has created new dances for the Colburn Dance Academy, with new arrangements for orchestra by Scott Ninmer. Since 2014, Ninmer has been a member of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, where he currently serves as staff arranger.

The Berlin assortment begins and ends with music from the 1940s, starting with a rousing song from the 1948 musical celebration of the sharp-shooting Annie Oakley, as portrayed in the original Broadway production with irresistible self-confidence by Ethel Merman. It was the death of composer Jerome Kern, originally slated to compose Annie Get Your Gun with its book by Dorothy Fields, that brought Berlin into the production to create a long string of memorable songs, from “They Say It’s Wonderful” to “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” plus the rousing anthem “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” “I Got the Sun in the Mornin’ ” is an optimistic romp in which Annie declares her willingness to settle for the gifts we too often overlook.

A decade earlier, Berlin had collaborated with Morrie Riskind on a curious amalgam of satire and ballet that is now obscure even to most lovers of Broadway history. Louisiana Purchase ran for more than a year in New York, and was soon adapted by Paramount Pictures as a vehicle for Bob Hope. The story (carefully explained as being completely fictional, even though it is clearly referencing the recent scandals involving Huey Long and his political machine) involves attempts to discredit the investigating senator played (on Broadway and in Hollywood) by Victor Moore. “You’re Lonely and I’m Lonely Too” finds Vera Zorina as Marina von Minden attempting to seduce Senator Loganberry (Moore) into a compromising situation.

Next come two Berlin songs from two decades earlier; each included in an edition of Berlin’s self-produced Music Box Revue. “What’ll I Do” was added late in the run of the 1923-24 edition. It has proven in the 90-plus years since to be one of Berlin’s most affecting and touching songs, mixing a syncopated waltz with a sad lyric about “dreams that won’t come true.” It has been suggested that Berlin was more aware than other songwriters of the appeal that suitable songs could have for solitary, secluded listeners who might sit at home in a darkened room with a phonograph.

“All Alone” was part of the 1924-25 Music Box Revue. It continues, even intensifies, the sad portrayal of the lonely individual, although it was originally performed with two singers at opposite sides of the stage, each with a telephone. In his notes to introduce the American Classics 2005 revival of the Music Box Revues at the Longy School in Cambridge, MA, Benjamin Sears observes that Oscar Hammerstein felt Berlin had written the perfect lyric, telling the whole story in five words: “all alone by the telephone.”

Irving Berlin was a master at recycling his vast catalog of songs. In the 1948 MGM musical Easter Parade, which starred Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, Berlin incorporated various songs he had written as long ago as 1915. The title song had first appeared in his 1933 Broadway revue As Thousands Cheer, when the song itself was adapted from an even earlier incarnation (as “Smile and Show Your Dimple”!) first heard in 1917. Berlin did write some new songs for the film, including “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” for Astaire. The Berlin-Astaire connection can be traced back at least as far as the iconic 1935 RKO musical Top Hat, starring Astaire and Ginger Rogers, for which Berlin provided several of his best songs (“Cheek to Cheek,” “Isn’t This a Lovely Day,” and the title song among them).

— Dennis Bade