Theater Review: A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on October 17, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles

AMERICA’S BEST NOTES

Beginning its first season since the COVID shutdown, Musical Theater West has, true to its name, celebrated musical theatre 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 (AllegroMe and Juliet, and Pipe Dream), as well as the classic, evergreen triumphs The King and ICarouselOklahoma!Flower Drum SongSouth PacificCinderella, and The Sound of Music.

The Cast of A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING

It’s equally a showcase for the five all-dancing, all-singing talents assembled by director Jason Graae and choreographer DJ Gray. Kelley Dorn can move from the deep-core depths of “If I Loved You” to vaudevillian cut-ups in “I Cain’t Say No.” With a strong tenor, Jacob Haren turns the usually convent-minded “Maria” into a comic relationship woe. Irrepressible Natalie Wachen castigates assorted cads in “The Gentleman Is A Dope” (a kind of reverse mirror to Rodgers’ “The Lady Is A Tramp”). Joan Almedilla marvels at “Something Wonderful” because “It Might As Well Be Spring,” and Richard Bermudez — one of the marvels of So Cal Theatre who was about to open Sondheim’s Passion at Boston Court before the shutdown, brings a glorious baritone to “Beautiful Mornin’,” as affirmative an anthem as ever opened a Broadway musical. (We’re still praying for Passion to reopen, Mr. Bermudez.)

RICHARD BERMUDEZ
NATALIE WACHEN, JOAN ALMEDILLA, and KELLEY DORNEY

Some songs really soar, especially when delivered without gimmickry. In the “If It Ain’t Broke Department,” not every song works as well when taken out of its original context. Sometimes Graae — who was in the original Broadway production — gets too cutesy at the expense of the material, as if this were an out-of-town tryout for a cruise ship leaving the Long Beach port — on Carnival, no less. The women’s dresses — with 1940s-informed, pretty fabric — sometimes felt like they were made for anyone to slip into should another cast member get seasick. And Kevin Clowes’s schmaltzy nightclub set sure looks pretty, with a glittery fiber-optic drape behind it, yet it still feels like we’re on the high seas.

KELLEY DORNEY

But there’s no contesting the effectiveness of the chamber orchestra arrangements by Fred Wells, the orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, or Dennis Castellano’s solid musical direction and Julie Ferrin’s sound design, which allowed every lovely lyric to engage with our senses. 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.

JOAN ALMEDILLA

photos by Caught in the Moment Photography

NATALIE WACHEN

A Grand Night for Singing
Musical Theatre West
Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center
6200 E. Atherton at Cal State Long Beach
ends on October 31, 2021
for tickets, call 562.856.1999 or visit Musical

JACOB HAREN

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