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Chicago by John Olson

Some Enchanted Evening:
An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein

Ravinia Festival

Also see John's review of Beethoven As I Knew Him

Beyond the title's promise of a simple pops concert devoted to the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein was the implicit opportunity for Chicago audiences to get a taste of the smash Lincoln Center revival of South Pacific. The announced soloists were the leads of that production, Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot, and the conductor, South Pacific's music director Ted Sperling. Illness forced Szot to cancel, however, turning the concert in a slightly different direction with Szot's not-at-all shabby replacement, Broadway's Jason Danieley. Though we got a little less Emile de Becque ("This Nearly Was Mine" was dropped from the song list), Danieley made up for it with a bit of Lt. Cable in "Younger Than Springtime" and a more balanced focus on the authors' hit shows.

I'm betting Danieley may have been more convincing singing songs from Oklahoma! and Carousel in character as Curly and Billy than the Brazilian opera singer Szot might have been. The "Soliloquy" from Carousel was added to the program for Danieley and he performed it with both swagger and vulnerability. In "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and "People Will Say We're in Love" (sung with O'Hara), he was a cocky and charming Curly. The audience had the further benefit of seeing Danieley's facial expressions on Ravinia's two giant high-definition screens. With his powerful tenor voice (though it has a bit too much vibrato for my taste) he seems as well suited for the concert stage as the musical theater stage.

Except for her songs from South Pacific, Ms. O'Hara approached her numbers as a concert performance, without working too hard to establish character. With "A Cockeyed Optimist" and "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy," though, she was every bit the Nellie Forbush she's played at Lincoln Center, though and in numbers from Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, Cinderella and The Sound of Music, she had a charming and easygoing presence that would suit any Rodgers and Hammerstein heroine. Her seemingly effortless and impeccable soprano served her well throughout, though it was less well-suited to "Climb Every Mountain" and "Something Wonderful" than "Out of My Dreams," "Mister Snow" and "I Have Dreamed" (sung with Danieley and added to the program after Szot's cancellation).

The Ravinia Festival Orchestra had its own moments with readings of the "Overture to South Pacific," the Main Title to the film version of The Sound of Music and especially with the "Carousel Waltz." Conductor Ted Sperling, giving little bits of Rodgers and Hammerstein history throughout the program, gave tribute to orchestrator Don Walker for the piece's ingenious arrangement, evoking stevedores working in turn-of-the-century New England, and tubas and trombones that mimic the sound of a calliope. Sperling also took a satisfactory turn as vocalist, dueting with O'Hara on "Ten Minutes Ago" from Cinderella, as he said it was the one song on the program Danieley didn't know.

"An Old Fashioned Wedding" from the Rodgers & Hammerstein-produced Annie Get Your Gun closed the announced program, but O'Hara and Danieley sang "Make Believe" from Hammerstein and Kern's Show Boat and "Getting to Know You" from The King and I as encores.

With the orchestra's use of the original Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker orchestrations rather than the revised arrangements that have been written for some of the shows' Broadway revivals, the program was clearly your "mother's Rodgers and Hammerstein" as it might be remembered from vinyl LPs or the Ed Sullivan Show. On a warm Labor Day Weekend evening, though, it's not a bad thing to wallow a little in the past with music that was once some of America's most popular.

Some Enchanted Evening was presented on September 6, 2009 at the Ravinia Festival Pavilion.

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