"My songs aim to be conversation set to music," Irving Berlin once remarked. And even in that statement, we can't miss the craft he applied to make it seem off the cuff. Berlin and his life beg the question: Has anyone ever worked harder to make it appear that there's been no work at all? He did this by knocking out hits from his teens to his 60s, working most nights until dawn, nailing the easygoing marriage of lyrics and melodies in songs such as "Cheek to Cheek" and "Blue Skies." Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin, his sophisticated peers, may be held in higher esteem today, but Berlin's unaffected commercialism suits our age more closely. Our contemporary songwriters can achieve artlessness, sure; to pound the American vernacular into pure American music — that takes some doing. Starting tonight, J. Kent Barnhart and the remarkable crew of Quality Hill Playhouse (303 West 10th Street, 816-421-1700) offer No Business Like Show Business
, a monthlong cabaret celebration of the Berlin songbook, about as can't-miss a revue as you can find outside Berlin's Music Box Theatre in, say, 1923. Tonight's show is at 8; the revue continues through February 10.
Quality Hill Playhouse
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Jan. 11. Continues through Feb. 10, 2008