note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Conductor; Keyboard 1 … Michael Kreutz
Keyboard 2 … Thomas Lissey
Reeds … Jeri Sykes
Cello … Matthew Pierce
Bass … Matthew Ambrose
Percussion … Don Holmes
A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING, now playing at the Gloucester Stage Company, celebrates the songs of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Before Mr. Rodgers ended his partnership with Lorenz Hart and Mr. Hammerstein parted company with Jerome Kern, the American Musical had revolved around star performers and flimsy plots; Rodgers & Hammerstein redefined the genre with well-constructed shows that called for singer-actors and whose songs and dances dovetailed and reinforced the storyline. Some declared that the Musical was now growing up; others, to quote Gerald Bordman, felt it was “the beginning of an era of pretentious solemnity in the American Musical Theatre, an era that attempted to replace the marquee with a steeple.” Rodgers & Hammerstein dominated and influenced the Broadway scene from WWII to the end of the Eisenhower era then were regulated to Squaresville: the times were turning dark and angry, America was locked in an endgame with Vietnam, and Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim were setting up shop; to dismiss Rodgers & Hammerstein is to do so at one’s own loss for their beautiful songs are still enjoyable --- the times have changed but the songs remain timeless as well as tuneful.
The title promises and delivers an upbeat evening but A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING would have proved more satisfying had it contrasted its sweetness and bounce with such songs as “Lonely Room”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Carefully Taught” --- to perform three dozen of the sunnier numbers, in whole or in part, is to reduce Rodgers & Hammerstein to so many helpings of creamed corn, especially when done in the manner of Your Hit Parade (children, ask your grandparents). As staged by Tony McLean and Michael Kreutz, the show’s highlights include “Honey Bun” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out’a My Hair”, now sung in three-part harmony, “Shall We Dance?”, which is still joyous even when it slides into a tango, and the little-known showstopper “It’s Me” which won’t stay little-known for long.
On the night I attended, humid weather and minimal air conditioning made the Gloucester production an ordeal for singers and audience, alike (the lyric “I keep wishing I were somewhere else” had me nodding in agreement), and I commend its cast for being troupers despite their glistening faces and darkening costumes; an extra nod goes to the musicians who play onstage, throughout. Otherwise, the performance was uneven: Luke Hawkins, in green voice, must reach for his high notes and labors in his tap dance, Brendan McNab’s soft-grained baritone renders him shy and apologetic, and Kristen Vail doesn’t seem to believe a word she is singing (Rodgers & Hart may be more her style). Maureen Brennan’s fine instrument allows her to be perky or lushly romantic with equal ease and I fear Sarah Corey may become the next Camp darling if she doesn’t refrain from sending herself up; her rendition of “The Gentleman is a Dope”, performed with heartfelt sincerity, shows what Ms. Corey can do when she is simply being herself.