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A Grand Night For Singing
a Musical Revue
CATEGORY :
by Rogers and Hammerstein

COMPANY : Stage Door Players [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Stage Door Players [WEBSITE]
ID# 3906

SHOWING : May 13, 2011 - June 05, 2011

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Taste and imagination, the two key ingredients for a first-rate revue, abound in this fresh take on the Rodgers & Hammerstein canon conceived by Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie. With innovative musical arrangements of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair," "Honeybun," and a jazzy "Kansas City," this leaves no question about how terrifically up to date the remarkable songs of R&H remain.


CAST & CREW LIST
Costume Design Jim Alford
Sound Design Dan Bauman
Choreographer Jen MacQueen
Lighting Design Michael Magursky
Musical Director Linda Uzelac
Scenic Design Chuck Welcome
Stage Manager Hampton Whatley
Cello April Still
Percussion John David Williams
Cast Bernard Jones
Cast Erin Lorette
Cast Nicholas Morrett
Cast Kelly Schmidt
Cast Caitlin Smith
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

A Bland Night for Singing
by Dedalus
Friday, June 24, 2011
3.5
I’m second to no one in my respect for Rodgers and Hammerstein, both for the music itself, and for their influence on Musical Theatre after the 1940’s. So, it came as a bit of a surprise that “A Grand Night for Singing,” the 1993 revue of their music, was, for me, so bland and lifeless. Comprised of a few favorite classics and many many lesser-known titles from lesser-known works, the show was very heavy on the slow ballads and very light on the lively plot numbers.

The problem may lie with the size of the cast. Conceived and arranged for five singers (two men and three women), the show has, essentially, no room for any large group numbers. The highlight of the show for me was “Honey Bun,” in which all five performers joined in a nicely choreographed and energetic jazz riff that, unfortunately, couldn’t be found anywhere else in the show.

Another problem may be a “have your cake and eat it too” approach to song set-ups. Each of the performers was costumed as an iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein character, putting some of the songs into their story and context. Yet, many opportunities were taken to completely change that context, most notably (and successfully) making “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria” a wistful love song by a confused suitor. That this particular diversion seemed to work so well is either a tribute to the song’s adaptability, or a condemnation of the interchangeability of too much of the R&H canon.

And that, for me, was the biggest problem with the show. Because so many of the numbers are from lesser-known shows with no frame of reference for the listener, too many of them began to sound distressingly alike, as if any one of them could be plugged into any of the shows. Understandably, this may be more of a cultural relic of the pre-Sondheim era, but, to a post-Sondheim audience, it makes for a blandly monochromatic revue.

Another issue is the lack of truly passionate faux-spiritual numbers. There is no “Climb Every Mountain” or “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” indeed no numbers at all that would allow the performers to cut loose and belt with passion and conviction. Most egregiously, we heard a snippet of “Carousel’s” “Soliloquy,” but only in the context of songs about families and kids – the excerpt ended long before the dramatic conclusion of the original number.

This is not to denigrate the cast (Bernard Jones, Erin Lorette, Nick Morette, Kelly Chapin Schmidt, and Caitlin Smith). All had moments of excellence, all had voices that blended well, and Music Director Linda Uzelac is to be commended for making so many songs (over 30) sound so professional and so well-done, not letting the amplified orchestra overwhelm the unmiked singers.

Director Robert Egizio also staged the show well, using Stage Door’s thrust stage to maximum effect. Chuck Welcome has built a beautiful “Side Show” set, complete with Ferris Wheel and Carousel Lights in the background and numerous “booths” for staging small scenes. On a technical and performance level, the show is a complete winner.

And, taken in and of themselves, the songs are treasures, delicate and humble expressions of love, of confusion, of loss, of sadness, of the full panoply of human emotion that proved the bedrock of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. My complaint is with how they were put together, how the evening was structured. To be frank, you can only listen to so many love songs without wanting to know something about the lovers, without wanting to know their story. Adding a narrator (ala “Side by Side by Sondheim”) to provide context (any context) or commentary would have helped. Including a wider variety of songs would have helped.

And coming up with a way to include a few up-beat chorus numbers, even reduced to five voices, would have been ideal, a way to inject some life into what comes across as a nicely illustrated Lawrence Welk album.

This is a show I only wish had been a little more Grand and a little less Bland.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Good; Not Great, Not Grand
by playgoer
Sunday, June 5, 2011
3.5
Stage Door Players' "A Grand Night for Singing" has lot of good-sounding ideas in it:
o Let's take a bunch of Rodgers & Hammerstein's songs and meld them into a sort of story about changing relationships.
o Let's build a light-studded set that consists of amusement park facades (Photos, Snack Shop, House of Mirrors, and Duck Shoot), with a view behind of a carousel and Ferris wheel.
o Let's costume the five characters as individuals from famous Rodgers & Hammerstein shows (Bernard Jones from "South Pacific," Erin Lorette from "Oklahoma," Nick Morrett from "Carousel," Kelly Chapin Schmidt from "The Sound of Music," and Caitlin Smith from "The King and I")
o Let's get a crackerjack band to play accompaniment (John Freeman on woodwinds, April Still on cello, JD Williams on percussion, and Linda Uzelac on keyboard)

The band is certainly grand. The other ideas -- well, a bit hit and miss. The storyline is too skeletal and diffuse to work. We don't get any feeling that anyone has connected with anyone else in any meaningful way. The set is pretty, but echoes the scenery only of "State Fair" and "Carousel." Tufts of grass here and there seem very odd, suggesting a side show seediness that the bright, fresh paint of the facades completely contradicts. The costumes work well enough in the rare instances that an actor sings a song from their costume's show (particularly Nick Morrett's "My Little Girl"), but mostly they act as distractions when non-consistent headgear is donned for particular numbers (particularly Nick Morrett's sparkling crown as Cinderella's prince).

The musical arrangements don't always work to the show's advantage. This is particularly evident at the start of act two, when the arrangements work at cross purposes to the audience's memory of the shows in which the songs originally appeared. "Kansas City" becomes a bit distasteful when two women describe the "burlyqueue" dancer that Will Parker in "Oklahoma" could describe with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Jazzy arrangements and numbers done with stretched rhythms don't echo the original song settings, so come across as willful misrepresentations of Rodgers' melodies.

The voices are all good, though not of equal quality. Bernard Jones and Kelly Chapin Schmidt's voices don't have the volume and pleasing quality of the others, and they seem to have been cast at least as much for their dancing as for their singing. They blend nicely, and would work well in a choral ensemble. Caitlin Smith has a huge voice and lots of pizzazz, but her relentlessly upbeat song stylings eventually wear thin. "If I Loved You" is her low point, seemingly emphasizing her weakest notes and done start to finish with a show-biz smile. The best voices belong to Nick Morrett and Erin Lorette. Nick Morrett is in stoic leading man mode here, showing little of the acting range he is thoroughly capable of. Erin Lorette, on the other hand, does a fine job of acting her songs, as well as singing them faultlessly. She also blends beautifully in the choral numbers, which the overly strong voices of Nick Morrett and Caitlin Smith don't always do.

One thing I thoroughly enjoyed was the hair in this production. It looked natural and real on everyone. No obviously wiggy wigs here, as too often has been the case in the past with Stage Door Players.

There will probably be some stunning photographs of this production. Michael W. Magursky's lighting design, while often appearing to be a foot off when attempting to spotlight actors, has a lot of nice effects with the small overhead and background lights. The bright sets and costumes look great visually. Jen MacQueen's choreography and Robert Egizio's blocking do a good job of directing various cast members face-front to different sections of the audience. Source material and design concept don't mesh particularly well, but this would be a good-looking show in an isolated collection of photos. The show itself, however, although clocking in at under two hours, is just too much of the same thing throughout to remain thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. It's a good night for singing, not a great one. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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