Review: ‘A Grand Night for Singing’ at Montgomery Playhouse and Arts on the Green

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Question: Where can you hear more than 30 wonderful songs from the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein performed by talented local artists? Answer: The current production of A Grand Night for Singing by Montgomery Playhouse in partnership with Arts on the Green. With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, musical arrangements by Fred Wells, and concept by Walter Bobbie, A Grand Night for Singing is a tuneful and funny revue of familiar and not so familiar numbers from the Rodgers and Hammerstein repertoire.

Rachel Weisenthal, Lauren-Nicole Gabel, and Jennifer Georgia. Photo by Scott D'Vileskis.

Rachel Weisenthal, Lauren-Nicole Gabel, and Jennifer Georgia. Photo by Scott D’Vileskis.

Considered by music historians to be the greatest musical theatre writing team of the 20th century, Rodgers and Hammerstein produced five hugely popular Broadway shows, Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music, as well as a very successful television production of Cinderella, during the 1940s and 1950s—the so-called “golden age” of Broadway. However, the title A Grand Night for Singing comes from one of the fabulous songs in the dynamic duo’s 1945 feature film State Fair. Not surprisingly, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s productions garnered numerous accolades, including thirty-four Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize.

A Grand Night for Singing is an homage to the remarkable canon of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Produced more than three decades after the team’s final collaboration, the 1993 revue takes a fresh look and a modern interpretation of their unforgettable show tunes. It’s been said that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s songs are like snowflakes—no two are alike.  This infinite variety requires tremendous talent and versatility and the Montgomery Playhouse cast and crew are clearly up to the task.

In this production, Director Kevin Sockwell, Music Director Arielle Bayer, and Choreographer Melanie Barber combine to lead a cast of five superb performers through a nonstop compendium of sensational music, dance, and comedy. Bayer not only serves as pianist and conductor of a talented three-piece orchestra, she also gets into the act at one point and displays her comedy skills.

Set Designer David Jones keeps things appropriately simple, with two small tables and chairs on either side of the stage and a platform upstage for the orchestra. McKenna G. Kelly’s costumes consist mostly of colorful and attractive formal wear and cocktail wear with a few extra touches appropriate to each song.

Danny Santiago, Lauren-Nicole Gabel, Brian Lyons-Burke, and Rachel Weisenthal. Photo by Scott D'Vileskis.

Danny Santiago, Lauren-Nicole Gabel, Brian Lyons-Burke, Jennifer Georgia, and Rachel Weisenthal. Photo by Scott D’Vileskis.

The ultra-talented company consists of Lauren-Nicole Gabel with her lovely and confident voice, Jennifer Georgia who is the epitome of a powerful female with a singing voice to match, Brian Lyons-Burke with his deep, rich voice and impeccable vocal dynamics, Daniel Santiago who has a remarkable flair for physical comedy, and Rachel Weisenthal with her pure and sweet soprano voice and impressive acting ability.

To open the show, the entire cast joins in a wonderful rendition of “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” but, because there are three women and only two men, the song becomes a comedic game of “musical chairs” as the women aggressively change dance partners. Later, Lyons-Burke leads the company in a show stopping version of “Honey Bun” from South Pacific, as the other cast members form a back-up group, complete with scat singing, chorus line dancing, and “playing” of musical instruments–using only vocal effects and pantomime.

Comedy is king once again in a brilliant individual performance by Weisenthal. When she sings “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma!, she virtually “acts the part” of Ado Annie using only her singing voice, facial expressions, and body language—and the result is raucous fun.

Other standout individual performances include Lyons-Burke in a beautiful and seemingly effortless version of “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” (also from Oklahoma!) as well as a heart-breaking rendition of “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific. In another song from South Pacific, Gabel is delightful as she declares she’s in love with “A Wonderful Guy.” Georgia shines brightly in the passionate love song “Something Wonderful” from The King and I and Santiago is nothing short of hilarious in his boy-loses-girl version of “Maria” from The Sound of Music.

When it comes to group performances, the three women get down and dirty in a blues rendition of “Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” from South Pacific, ending with the now iconic Charlie’s Angels pose. Weisenthal and Santiago perform a funny, yet endearing, version of “Shall We Dance” from The King and I.

Back Row: Brian Lyons-Burke and, Jennifer Georgia. Front Row: Lauren-Nicole Gabel, Rachel Weisenthal, and Danny Santiago. Photo by Scott D'Vileskis.

Back Row: Brian Lyons-Burke and, Jennifer Georgia. Front Row: Lauren-Nicole Gabel, Rachel Weisenthal, and Danny Santiago. Photo by Scott D’Vileskis.

The entire company performs a thrilling and emotional finale with “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I. Their rich, dramatic harmonies and stunning individual performances demonstrate that this production is truly A Grand Night for Singing!

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

A Grand Night for Singing plays through February 27, 2016 at Montgomery Playhouse in partnership with Arts on the Green, performing at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.

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A Grand Night for Singing plays through February 27, 2016 at Montgomery Playhouse  and Arts on The Green performing at The Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.

LINKS:
Meet the Cast of The Montgomery Playhouse’s ‘A Grand Night for Singing’: Part 1: Brian Lyons-Burke.

Meet the Cast of The Montgomery Playhouse’s ‘A Grand Night for Singing’: Part 2: Jennifer Georgia.

Meet the Cast of The Montgomery Playhouse’s ‘A Grand Night for Singing’: Part 3: Lauren-Nicole Gabel

Meet the Cast of The Montgomery Playhouse’s ‘A Grand Night for Singing’: Part 4: Danny Santiago.

Meet the Cast of The Montgomery Playhouse’s ‘A Grand Night for Singing’: Part 5:  Rachel Weisenthal.

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