A Grand Night For Singing

Posted on March 11, 2011 – 7:21 AM | by Admin
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By James W. Cameron

The twenty years when Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein ruled the American musical stage have been resurrected at Sacramento’s own Cosmopolitan Cabaret.  The result is a playful two hour romp in delightful music and misty-eyed nostalgia as the K Street night spot rings with the familiar strains of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “If I Loved You,” and “I Gotta Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” along with another two dozen songs by the incomparable duo. A middle aged audience, thoroughly familiar with the music and perhaps longing for a return to that era, greeted the revue at a recent Saturday matinee performance with loud applause and unbridled enthusiasm.

When Rodgers and Hammerstein, already well established in the music world through collaborations with other partners, opened the original Broadway production of Oklahoma at the St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943, it was not (unlike other musicals of its time) written with the talent of a specific big-name star in mind. Nevertheless, it ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances, stood the musical stage world on its ear, and was later made into an Academy Award winning film. In their career together, the Tin Pan Alley pair’s shows and films received thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammys while creating eleven shows in all. Their reign atop the musical stage world is generally regarded as its golden age.

The current Cosmopolitan Cabaret show is titled A Grand Night For Singing, and it is Indeed. In the stylish, well appointed showroom above Downtown’s Cosmo Café, five performers with well established credentials grace the stage with lyrical voices, clever choreography, and deft juxtapositioning of musical numbers.

Jill Van Velzer, Lisa Ferris and Melissa Wolfklain are the sweet voiced distaff vocalists and Ryan Drummond and Justin Michael Duval lend their robust expressions to the program while Musical Director Chris Schlagel holds forth at the piano. The cast is uniformly appealing but Ferris Is especially so as she displays a Carol Burnett quality in her humorous treatment of the material, as is Drummond who lends a rich and sensitive baritone to the ensemble’s offerings.

Staging a review of songs written for eleven shows over the course of two decades is a difficult task since selectivity is the order of the day. A Grand Night For Singing offers a reasonable selection of show goers favorites from the Rodgers and Hammerstein repertoire but the choice of songs for such a review will always be a subjective matter and this reviewer missed “Younger Than Springtime” from South Pacific and its brilliant, haunting version by tenor William Tabbert as well as “My Little Girl” from Carousel and John Raitt’s heart stopping tribute to his daughter. But “I Have Dreamed” from The King And I and “Love Look Away” from Flower Drum Song, two offerings rarely heard in today’s musical world that retain their original depth and meaning, were welcome inclusions.

The show’s most daunting problem, clearly one difficult to overcome, is easing from the minds of the audience the memorable presentations of the show’s historic performers. No one has ever sung “This Nearly was Mine” and “Some Enchanted Evening” with the tenderness and pathos of Ezio Pinza or cavorted about the stage with the sauciness and audacity of Mary Martin. Those days are, alas, gone forever. But, the directors of A Grand Night For Singing have done a grand job and the cast members offer a grand performance, moving through the two hour program of song in fine voice and executing the quaint choreography with surety and grace.

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