THE MELODY LINGERS ON: THE SONGS OF IRVING BERLIN, Prologue Theatre Productions, at the Theatre Building. The evening begins with a yeomanlike instrumental version of “The Song Is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On),” plunked out by pianist and musical director David Richards. During the artless blackout that follows, the actors clump on and wait in awkward silence in the dark for their cue.

Maybe it was a serious case of opening-night jitters, but Prologue’s marathon musical tribute to Irving Berlin–retelling the life of the Russian immigrant and cantor’s son who, it was said, wrote the only true American songs of his day–rarely ran more smoothly than during its opening minutes. Director Dennis Mae adds brief stretches of book-report dialogue (pulled from Berlin’s daughter’s memoir) to the more than 50 songs, most of which are cheapened by nonstop stage business, by-the-book choreography, and shameless mugging. Richards pays scant attention to phrasing, color, or texture: almost every song proceeds at a mechanical pace until it suddenly ends, as though slipping unnoticed off a cliff.

Voices range from lovely to adequate to nonexistent, but even the weakest members of this youthful cast exhibit enough squeaky-clean affability to keep you on their side. If only Mae would let them sit still for a few minutes they might have the energy to connect with Berlin’s lyrics. –Justin Hayford