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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Grand Night ...
for Rodgers and Hammerstein


I believe that since A Grand Night for Singing opened at the Roundabout Theatre in New York on November 17, 1993, this revue has played in every regional theater in the country. It is simple to stage. All it needs is five talented singers, minimal scenery and a piano. The Walter Bobbie and Fred Wells production needs nothing more. For some strange reason, this revue never made it to San Francisco until now and it took the New Conservatory Theatre to get it here.

Grand Night ... marked the first time that the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein had been presented on Broadway in a revue format and it took Broadway by storm. It garnered wildly enthusiastic notices and earned two Tony nominations including Best Musical.

I have to confess that Rodgers and Hammerstein are not on my "Top Five Best American Musical Composers" list. My list consists of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Kern and Rodgers and Hart. So, several times when I was in New York, I put the revue down on my list as something that I would see if nothing else were available. There always were so many shows that I wanted to see that I never did get to a production until Saturday night. I am happy to say it was a grand 75 minutes of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs sung by five very talented singer/ actors.

Two things stood out for me. First was the compactness of the show, it being just under 80 minutes. Second, the revue did not try to bowl me over with too much Rodgers and Hammerstein. These songs were a beautifully arranged introduction to their music, and there was not a dull moment in the revue. The songs just zipped along like a well oiled clockwork. What makes the show pleasant is that not all the songs are from their big hit shows; Carousel, King and I, Oklahoma and South Pacific. Many of the songs come from their less famous shows; Cinderella, State Fair, Allegro, Me and Juliet, and Pipe Dreams.

The numbers are arranged into segments; an idea I like. Sounds of the Earth, Courtship and Discovery, and Therapy comprise the first half. The second half consists of Romance and Heartbreak concluding with Celebration and Resolution. There were many highlights that I enjoyed. The songs that are seldom heard were my favorites. “That’s The Way it Happens” from Me and Juliet was a show-stopper. A great rendition of a lovelorn young lad who poses the musical question, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,” was marvelous. A great arrangement of “I’m Going to Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair,” sung by a sultry trio of female singers, reminded me of the Andrew Sisters.

Director Dyan McBride and producer Ed Decker assembled a sturdy and versatile cast to put these classics across. Carmichael Blankenship delivered deep, rich vocals with a confident stage presence. He was marvelous in the song “We Kiss In the Shadows” and “This Nearly was Mine”. Carmichael and fellow male singer Nick Hoffa were comical on “Don’t Marry Me.” Nick put his unembellished voice to good use in several numbers including the “Maria” song.

The three women were excellent in voice and stage presence. Linda Haggerty was vibrant and perky and she has an excellent "Lisa Minnelli" quality about her. Bobbie Duncan's delivery was sultry and very effective, while Alexandera Ackerman was equally capable of carrying off songs of joy and longing. Michael O’Dell at the keyboard was exceptional as usual. Director Dyan McBride certainly kept this musical moving and it was as smooth as a martini.

For the most part the revue is a grand night for lovers of musical theater in general and aficionados of R & H in particular. The show will play Thursdays through Sundays until January 21 at:

The New Conservatory Theatre
25 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco
Tickets range from $16 to $32.

Call 415-861-8972 to check availability. They have been getting full houses at every performance.

Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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