Chicago Theater Review: A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING (Mercury Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 21, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

AMERICA’S BEST NOTES

Beginning its first new season of self-generated musicals, the Mercury Theater has, true to its name, raised the temperature with A Grand Night for Singing, a heartfelt, if sometimes overwrought, salute which happily honors and delightfully reprises the glorious, all-American (in the best sense) Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and their inexhaustible legacy of hope, love and joy. The two-hour tribute showcases lesser-known offerings from their three flops (Allegro, Me and Juliet, and Pipe Dream), as well as the classic, evergreen triumphs of The King and I, CarouselOklahoma!, Flower Drum Song, South Pacific, Cinderella, and The Sound of Music.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of A Grand Night for Singing at the Mercury Theater in Chicago

It’s equally a showcase for the five all-dancing, all-singing talents assembled by director/choreographer Kevin Bellie. Marya Grandy can move from the deep-core depths of “If I Loved You” to vaudevillian cut-ups in “I Can’t Say No.” A better dancer than singer, Stephen Schellhardt turns the usually convent-minded “Maria” into something much closer to Bernstein’s version. Irrepressible Leah Morrow castigates assorted cads in “The Gentleman Is a Dope” (a kind of reverse mirror to Rodgers’ “The Lady Is a Tramp”). Robert Hunt brings a glorious baritone to “Beautiful Mornin’,” as affirmative an anthem as ever opened a Broadway musical, while tall and very blonde Heather Townsend, who bears an amazing resemblance to the young Julie Andrews, marvels at “Something Wonderful” because “It Might As Well Be Spring.”

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of A Grand Night for Singing at the Mercury Theater in Chicago

In the “If It Ain’t Broke Department,” not every song works as well when not presented in its original context. Sometimes Bellie gets too clever at the expense of the material: “Shall We Dance?” turns out to be a catalogue of ballroom-dancing missteps that turns this polka into a blooper reel. The jitter-bugging, be-bopping, Lindy-hopping “Honey Bun” works well, considering that this was its chosen era, but turning “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” into a mating dance between “Curly” and four farm girls seems singularly stupid. Likewise the “Kansas City” ensemble offering is entirely too busy to do justice to its cornpone lyrics. Plus, there no reason to make Cinderella’s stepsisters look more attractive than she is, unless there’s an “in-joke” here that I don’t want to get.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of A Grand Night for Singing at the Mercury Theater in Chicago

But there’s no contesting the effectiveness of the chamber-orchestra arrangements by Fred Wells, the orchestrations by Michael Gibson and Jonathan Tunick, or Eugene Dizon’s solid musical direction. And let’s not forget what they’re singing and playing. There’s no way that you could offer the highlights or favorites in the R&H canon: They were too good not to turn every word and note to gold. But there’s enough here to remind us that one of the best things about being alive is to hear “Some Enchanted Evening” on, well, some enchanted evening.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of A Grand Night for Singing at the Mercury Theater in Chicago

photos by Michael Brosilow

A Grand Night for Singing
Mercury Theater
scheduled to end on March 10, 2013
for tickets call 773-325-1700 or visit http://www.mercurytheaterchicago.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of A Grand Night for Singing at the Mercury Theater in Chicago

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