A Grand Night for Singing is a sophisticated, polished musical revue that celebrates one of the most enduring partnerships in musical theater — Rodgers and Hammerstein.
This 1994 show, playing at Actors’ Summit in Akron, puts a fresh, at times unexpected spin on scores of this duo’s classics, featuring sparkling musical arrangements by Fred Wells. Directed by MaryJo Alexander, the cast of five includes returning artists Hope Caldwell and Shani Ferry as well as three Actors’ Summit newcomers: Laura Best, Jay Hill and Justin Williams.
Actors’ Summit produced this show — an homage to composer Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II — in 2002 at its previous location in Hudson, featuring a cast of four. That production was directed by Alexander’s husband, Neil Thackaberry, and included Alexander in the cast.
Alexander’s personal history with the show is an asset in the theater’s latest endeavor — a nimbly paced production with fluid, graceful transitions between musical numbers. The singers are highly invested in the music and work well together vocally in numerous groupings between men and women.
The talented Ferry has animated expressions in The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top as Hill sings to her in this courting song. Hill’s singing erred on the flat side in this tune but he held his own with the cast throughout the rest of the show.
The revue’s bevy of musical numbers includes hits from Carousel, State Fair, Oklahoma, Cinderella, The King and I, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Allegro, Pipe Dream and Flower Drum Song.
High points of the show include surprising spins on gender, with the mellow-voiced Williams singing We Kiss in a Shadow with remarkable feeling. Normally a love duet, the song worked well as a male solo for Williams, a dynamite singer.
Male soloist Hill also brought new meaning to Maria from The Sound of Music, creating the interpretation of a man smitten by a woman named Maria.
This Rodgers and Hammerstein revue runs just under 90 minutes, without an intermission. The show features simple yet effective choreography by Julie Goncy Shullo and impeccable piano playing by musical director Deborah Ingersoll.
My favorite tune was the wonderful jazz rendition of Kansas City, featuring the whole company. Other standout numbers include Caldwell singing a heartbreaking If I Loved You from Carousel; the rich-voiced Best in Something Wonderful from The King and I, a perfect tune for her operatic style; and the wonderfully lush harmonies of the whole cast in Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific.
The revue has elements of humor too, ranging from the Andrews Sisters-style backup singing and simulation of band instruments in Honey Bun to the sassy ladies’ attitude in the clever combo number Many a New Day/I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.
Audience members who want to get their fill of Rodgers and Hammerstein music and hear it performed very well will want to see A Grand Night for Singing.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.