“A Grand Night For Singing” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Music
Review by Doug Iden
It’s A Grand Night for Singing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs at Northern Kentucky University’s intimate Strauss Theater. The revue features songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog of Broadway, movie and television venues featuring very popular music and lesser known songs from the duo.
The Talented Quintet
The quintet of NKU students Katherine Sharp, Kelly Messer, Tasha Conzelman, Lawson James Smith and Tre Taylor along with a five person live band bring the R & H music to life. Directed by Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll. Music Director is Damon Stevens. Unlike many other revues, there is no dialogue or background information about the music. The show is structured as a series of mini-playlets with an occasional solo performance. One song morphs into another. The original shows from which the songs originated are identified only in the program although some props give clues about the shows.
Opening with the orchestra playing the “Carousel Waltz” in a gazebo structured like some city park bandstands (designed by Ron Shaw), the show quickly moves to “So Far” (from Allegro) and then into the title song from the entire cast. The only other props are a bench and a blanket on the floor. The men are dressed casually and the women have dresses, all in different colors designed by Annie Yuan. In the second act, the cast is dressed in formal attire. The singers remain on stage for most of the show, fading into the background or pretending to have conversations when other cast members are performing.
Your Favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein Songs
There are over 30 songs performed throughout the evening in combinations of solos, duets, trios, quartets, and quintets. After the opening, Smith sings “Surrey with the Fringe On Top” from Oklahoma followed by the “Stepsister’s Lament” (Messer and Sharp) from the original television production of Cinderella. Taylor plaintively invokes “We Kiss in a Shadow” and the entire cast chimes in with a rousing “Hello, Young Lovers”, both from The King and I.
The revue features songs from R & H’s best-known shows like Oklahoma, Carousel, King and I, South Pacific and The Sound of Music as well as less successful shows including Allegro, Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream and Flower Drum Song which still included many good songs. The original movie musical State Fair is also included.
Starting with Showboat (music by Jerome Kern) through Oklahoma, Carousel and South Pacific, Hammerstein was a major architect of the transition from Musical Comedy (where songs and dances were primarily entertainment only) to Musical Theater (where songs, lyrics and dances helped propel the story) along with more mature themes. These transitional songs are well represented here.
Interestingly, there were some gender switches in the show with men singing songs originated by women in the original productions and vice versa. Some examples include Taylor singing a lively and comedic version of “Honey Bun” (South Pacific), “Maria” (Smith from Sound of Music), “If I Loved You” (Messer from Carousel), “Love Look Away” (soulful rendition by Smith) and a jazzy, boisterous version of “Kansas City” with the three women.
More Rodgers & Hammerstein Songs
There are also some comedic moments primarily from the songs, but enhanced by the actor/singers including “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” (Sharp, Messer and Conzelman), “I Cain’t Say No” (flirty version by Messer) and “Don’t Marry Me” by the ensemble.
Other highlights include “A Wonderful Guy” and “The Gentleman is a Dope” (Conzelman), “This Nearly Was Mine” (Taylor), “Something Wonderful” (Sharp), Smith and Taylor’s duet to “All At Once You Love Her” and the entire ensemble singing the ending songs from both acts (“Some Enchanted Evening” and “I Have Dreamed”).
Overall, this is a delightful evening, sort of like “old home week” with my original cast albums. The ensemble is talented, enthusiastic and solid interpreters of the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.
Tickets to A Grand Night For Singing
So, hop on your magic carriage or your fringy Surrey and gallop down to enjoy A Grand Night For Singing at NKU, running through April 14-23, 2023 at NKU’s Stauss Theatre. Get tickets at the online box office.