Mercury Theatre’s A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING Proves The Genius Of Rogers & Hammerstein
Reviewed by: RUSSELL GOELTENBODT
My appreciation for musical theater over the years is very diverse. I love the uniqueness of Wicked and Cabaret, and Chicago. I love the artistic and historical settings of Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. I love the fun of Hairspray and Mama Mia. However, you cannot match the greatness of the Oklahoma, Sound of Music, South Pacific, Flower Drum Song and all of the music and lyrics of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein.
I am pleased to say that all of this wonderful music can now be experienced until March 10 at the Mercury Theater, an intimate jewel box, located on 3745 N. Southport in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood. “A Grand Night for Singing” is a Broadway musical revue highlighting all of the fabulous works of Rogers and Hammerstein. This show is directed and choreographed by Jeff award winner, Kevin Bellie. I have to say that this show is grand even if you go see a matinee in the afternoon. It is set on a beautiful stage with intimate lighting and a 5 piece orchestra masterfully directed by Eugene Dizon (a six time Jeff award winner). The costumes were designed by Kathryn-Sarah Philllips, who is designing her first show for the Mercury Theater.
“A Grand Night for Singing” does not disappoint and presents most of Rogers and Hammerstein’s greatest works from the musicals I listed above and more. The five cast members of Robert Hunt, Stephen Shellhardt, Marya Grandy, Leah Morrow, and Heather Townsend, provided many magical moments during this show. This performance consisted of beautiful voices, wonderful dancing, great comedy and most importantly perfect chemistry. When watching this performance you can see the wonderful chemistry. There is something to be said about having a minimal cast that makes this show work so well. Although I would have liked to have seen a cast of six to better pair each male cast member with a female. However, the five voices blended beautifully without anyone upstaging their partner, and it was evident that the cast really enjoyed being there and performing together.
The highlighted moments of this performance were Robert Hunt singing a beautiful version of South Pacific’s “This Nearly Was Mine”. His baritone voice is exquisite. Heather Townsend sang “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” with conviction from Oklahoma. Mayra Grandy beautifully sang “If I Loved You” from Carousel with loving feeling. and Leah Morrow sang “The Gentleman is a Dope” from Allegro with conviction and moved with graceful dancing on stage. Stephen Schellhardt beautifully sang and masterfully moved to “Love Look Away” from Flower Drum Song There was also great comic relief from cast members Marya and Heather during “Stepsister’s Lament” from Cinderella, Stephen, Marya, Heather and Robert singing”Don’t Marry Me” from Flower Drum Song, and Marya, Leah and Heather singing “Many a New Day/Wash that Man” from South Pacific. The entire cast is very talented individually and performing as an ensemble. They were all very entertaining.
As a side note regarding some of the direction, I will have to say that I was a bit concerned during the first act where the transition from one song to the next seemed a little awkward. It was particularly apparent when two of the cast were singing and there were others just standing on stage looking at them without any real purpose of being there. Eventually, they would be worked into the song or another song in some way, but it was not a very smooth transition. I believe that the director’s intent was to bring the others into the story. However, it fell flat while viewing it from the audience. The musical transitions were much less awkward during the second act and thankfully the remainder of the show flowed beautifully. The additional question I raised earlier was why were there only 5 cast members? I would have loved to see three sets of couples that were perfectly matched; I believe they could have added to the stories of the songs they were singing making some of the scene transitions less awkward. The second act blended much more easily. Perhaps some of this direction may be noted and corrected for future performances.
The costuming during the first act was also puzzling. Each female cast member wore different dresses that may have been pulled from their wardrobe. The dresses were all different styles and patterns. This was very distracting to see on stage for this type of show. The gentlemen wore basically their street clothes that did not match. If the intent of the costuming was for shows like Company or How to Succeed in Business, which require a much more casual look, it may have worked. Thankfully, for the second act all of the cast members were dressed with the same color providing the uniformity that this show requires. The women were in different styles in black, and the men were in different styles in gray. This move created the consistency this show needed. The elegance and the sophistication for a revue of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals require this disciplined wardrobe. Anything less is disappointing. Why the costume designer went in the direction that she did for the first act, I have no idea. I will say that I was relieved with uniformity and the elegance of the costumes during the second act. I am hoping that this may also be corrected for the first act for the remaining run of this show.
All of that being said, I do not want to focus on the negative aspects taking away from the excellence of this show. “A Grand Night For Singing” is really a show that should not be missed. My notes regarding costuming and direction should not minimize the fine entertainment, the talent of the cast and the greatness of this show. If you love hearing the music and lyrics from the musical genius of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, you will thoroughly enjoy this show. I know I am still singing the songs.
A Grand Night For Singing plays through March 10, 2013 at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL; For tickets and information call 773-325-1700, or visit www.mercurytheaterchicago.com, tickets $25 – $59, Thursdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission,. For calendar information please visit www.TheatreInChicago.com