Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Grand Night for Singing"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"A Grand Night for Singing"

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Stacey Stephens
Musical Direction by Joshua Feinstein

Choreography by David Costa
Scenic & Costume Design by Stacey Stephens
Lighting Design by Kristin Hayes
Sound Design by Mockingbird Studios
Technical Director Ian O'Malley
Production Stage Manager David Allen Jeffrey

David Costa
Hayley Richelson
Katrina Shinay
Stacey Stephens
Lisa Yuen

Piano................Joshua Finstein
Harp.....................Juli Miller
Reeds..............Heather Katz-Cote
Cello...............Javier Caballero
Bass.................Matthew Ambrose
Percussio............Desiree Glazier
Conductor............Joshua Finstein

Stephen Sondheim has often said "The songs are meant either to create character or to advance the plot" --- but what if you lift 35 different songs out of their shows, string them along a seven-piece heavenly orchestra, and let five singers loose on them? Well, Sondheim also said of Oscar Hammerstein II his neighbor and mentor "Oscar didn't write lyrics; Oscar wrote stories." For the twenty years when he collaborated with Richard Rodgers, that pair gave the world the music it lived by.

I am sorry the Fiddlehead Theatre anthology "A Grand Night for Singing" had so short a run. People who didn't recognize the show's title must have been unaware that most of their most favorite songs, and a sprinkling of others they'd be hearing for the first time, were included. Ya shoulda been there!

For decades --- calling them "show tunes" --- jazz musicians and singers have been mining the riches of these two men's work, and Music Director Joshua Finstein --- who conducted his six on-stage collegaues from the piano --- took full advantage of the show's new arrangements of old standards to make them new again. At one point, the cast turned themselves into musical instruments, imitating their sounds in a semi-a-capella jazz rendition to celebrate just this fact.

Each of the performers was special: Katrina Shinay's operatic purity seemed never to let go of a note till its time; Hayley Richelson could end a song dropping volume to a whisper to lend whole new meaning to the verse; Lisa Yuen took many of the saucy, flirty numbers; and David Costa's not quite dance-steps animated not only his own songs, but the ensemble as well.

It's unusual for a company's Artistic Director to appear on stage --- they're usually too busy with the overall effect of a show to take part --- but Stacey Stephens couldn't resist a piece of the action. He blended right in, easily holding his own with the other specialists.

And, though there was no "book" here, there were 35 "plots" --- from "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin' " and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and "If I loved You" on to "The Gentleman Is A Dope" and "Hello, Young Lovers" and "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "We Kiss in A Shadow" and, yes, "It's A Grand Night for Singing"!

Ya shoulda been there!


"A Grand Night for Singing" (30 January - 8 February)
109 Central Street, NORWOOD MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide