The husband-and-wife, song-and-dance team of Beverly and Kirby Ward are sure to be an audience favorite when the Reagle Players take the stage Oct. 2-4 for their ninth edition of "Say It With Music," a tribute to the extraordinary songwriter Irving Berlin.
The husband-and-wife, song-and-dance team of Beverly and Kirby Ward are sure to be an audience favorite when the Reagle Players take the stage for their ninth edition of "Say It With Music," a tribute to the extraordinary songwriter Irving Berlin.
The show consists of some 40 singers, mostly local talent, celebrating Berlin's music through various choral arrangements and solo numbers, while a narrator provides a brief biographical context for the songs from Berlin's 60-year career. He wrote approximately 1,500 songs, in spite of the fact that he couldn't read music and had to hire musical secretaries to write down the notes he heard in his head and played on a piano. Some of his best-known songs featured in this musical revue include "God Bless America," "White Christmas," and "Alexander's Ragtime Band," his first hit song.
The Wards' elegant dance moves will be interwoven throughout the show as they perform "Cheek to Cheek" from the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' film "Top Hat, " "It's a Lovely Day Today" from the Broadway show "Call Me Madam," and what Kirby says is a "pretty involved tap routine together." And they will add a new soft shoe number -- based on tap but without taps on their shoes.
"I'm a huge fan of Fred and Ginger," said Kirby. "I grew up watching them in the late night movies." When Robert Eagle, founder and executive producer of the Reagle Players, first asked the Wards years ago to appear in "Say It With Music," Kirby got a hold of a videotape of the dance "Cheek to Cheek" and lifted as much as he possibly could from it. This will be the Wards' fourth edition of the show, although the show was last performed in 2005.
"It not just a matter of looking at their feet and seeing where the turns happen to be and when to be in a waltz position," said Beverly. "You also have to look at the line of the arm, how the body is torqued and twisted, not just the steps."
"He was falling in love with her and romanced her with the song," said Kirby, describing Astaire and Rogers in their film performance of "Cheek to Cheek." "At the end of the number he had taken out a cigarette as if he had finished a great evening of making love. She was all flushed from the dance. It made the statement that now we have fallen in love with each other."
Kirby explained that "Cheek to Cheek" was one of the first times dance had been used to insert a different point into the plot, instead of just expressing exuberance. "He's a pioneer in dance as story telling," said Kirby, who added that Astaire preceded choreographer Agnes De Mille, who's often credited with first using dance to advance the plot of a show.
Kirby will be performing a "Fred Astaire-ish tribute" which he calls "Top Hat," that comes out of pure exuberance. "I'm really happy and look at me dance," said Kirby, describing the number.
When asked about the famous line that has been attributed to Rogers that she did everything Astaire did except backward and in high heels, Beverly said, "It was her way of claiming some part of the responsibility (for their success)."
After Rogers saw the Wards perform in "Crazy for You," Beverly said Rogers told her, "You melted into his arms."
"Even if she was blowing smoke for me," said Beverly, "that was one of her great skills" -- melting into Astaire's arms. And it clearly was the highest compliment Rogers could pay.
There are lots of male and female dancers today who get together for a brief rehearsal before performing and then go their own ways. But Beverly and Kirby are one of those rare song-and-dance teams who have so much history together.
"We are married (since 1984) and have been partners in so many ways -- in life, on stage, and as parents," said Beverly. That means they are very familiar with each other's dance moves, and it offers audiences an intriguing story as they watch them dance.
It also allows them to rehearse almost any time and anywhere. "We practice in the kitchen, in the dining room," said Kirby. "As long as we can move the coffee table, we'll dance anywhere. On the back deck, in the driveway. Wherever we can find a little space and the kids will leave us alone."
The couple lives in Wilton, Conn., and have three boys -- Michael, 19, a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, James, 15, and Jesse, 13.
"What I love about Kirby is that I find him very easy to follow," said Beverly. We have simpatico. We feel each other's rhythm and movement. I think all dance is about give and take."
"There's so much joy in Beverly when we dance, when we work on stage together," said Kirby. "She truly enjoys herself."
Kirby said that what makes the difference between a good and a great dancer is understanding and expressing the emotional context of a dance. "I talk to my students about being emotionally connected to the dance and having it mean something to them personally. A lot of people who are coordinated can dance the step you're dancing. But when you are personally connected to it and it's saying something about who you are, then it moves an audience."
On top of raising their boys, they're a very busy couple.
Both have performed on Broadway. He in "Showboat," "Never Gonna Dance" and "Woman of the Year." Of the latter, he said, "Only for a millisecond. I closed it." Beverly appeared on Broadway in "Epic Proportions." They performed opposite each other in the lead roles of the national tour and the London production of "Crazy for You."
Kirby wrote and made a 20-minute film "Down in the Mouth," which won the award for Best Short Film at the Kent Film Festival in Connecticut.
Beverly has just been accepted into a yearlong program as a songwriter -- of music and lyrics -- at the BMI Lehmen Engel Musical Theater Workshop. She will meet every Monday night for a couple of hours with fellow composers, writers and teachers, and the best of the students will be chosen for a second year.
He's shopping around Hollywood a script that he's written. And the two of them are writing a script for an indie film. He's been singing and dancing with the Hong Kong, Winnipeg and Detroit symphonies. She was in "Falsettos" last season at Worcester Foothills Theater before it folded, and he was in "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" at the Peterborough Players in New Hampshire.
When they perform in "Say It With Music," if they play off one another and enjoy each other half as much as they did during the interview for this story, it will be a wonderfully entertaining show.
"Say It With Music"
Reagle Players, 617 Lexington St., Waltham
Tickets: $29-$45, $25 for children 18 and under
Info: 781-891-5600, www.reagleplayers.com