Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
A Grand Night for Singing
This is not to say that the team's classic selection of songs is ever distorted or lose their timeless effectiveness. Somehow, this production of A Grand Night for Singing stays true to the spirit of Rodgers and Hammerstein while making their songs feel newly minted. Goodspeed Opera House's production is so good that it should delight both diehard fans of Rodgers and Hammerstein as well as those who are hearing these classic songs for the first time.
Originally conceived by Walter Bobbie, A Grand Night for Singing was first presented on Broadway in 1993, though this is the first time I have encountered the show. I can't compare the Goodspeed Opera House production to the original Broadway version, but director Rob Ruggiero and his team of actors and designers seem to get everything right in the present staging. A Grand Night for Singing begins with the revue's title song, delivered by the entire cast, and what follows is a selection of both classic and less familiar Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, marvelously performed by a first-rate company of actors. The show allows all five performers a chance to shine both individually and as a group.
One gets the sense early on that this show is going to be extremely inventive. Seated at the edge of the stage, looking at their phones, the terrific Mamie Parris and Diane Phelan sing "Stepsisters' Lament" (from Cinderella) and this number manages to be both riotous and completely new, to the point that I felt like I was hearing the song for the first time. The adorable and terrific Jesse Nager gets to sing "I Cain't Say No," keeping all the original pronouns the same, and thus turns the song into a very funny gay anthem. One of the key aspects of this show is that it presents songs originally sung by women now being sung by men, and vice versa, with every number working like gangbusters. Other good gender-reverse moments include the excellent Mauricio Martinez delivering an impassioned "Hello, Young Lovers" and the fine Jasmine Forsberg singing a hilarious "Don't Marry Me."
Another great aspect of this revue is that it includes a number of obscure songs mixed in with the classics. Indeed, who would have imagined that the song "It's Me," from the lesser-known Me and Juliet would be presented and performed so marvelously by Jasmine Forsberg that it becomes an all-out showstopper? This number is immediately followed by Jesse Nager breaking everyone's heart in the gorgeous ballad, "Love, Look Away." Perhaps the greatest moment in the show, though, belongs to Mamie Parris, who sings a full-throated and powerful "This Nearly Was Mine."
In addition to having the perfect cast, Rob Ruggiero is ably assisted by scenic designer Brian Prather, costume designer Alejo Vietti, and lighting designer Alan C. Edwards, whose collective work is ideal for this show. Choreographer Lainie Sakakura supplies some slinky and effective dance steps and the expert music director Adam Souza leads the wonderful onstage band.
Goodspeed Opera House has a winner in its presentation of A Grand Night for Singing a show that overflows with abundant pleasures and beautiful singing.
A Grand Night for Singing runs through November 28, 2021, at Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam CT. For information and tickets, please visit www.goodspeed.org.