Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

It's Grand Night for Singing Rodgers and Hammerstein

Also see Bob's review of Into the Woods

Chelsea Friedlander, Jill Cappuccino, Perri Lauren, Chris Mortenson, Joseph Elefante and Peter Jay Oliff
The Women's Theatre Company is bringing its 2012-2013 season to a delightful close with a winning, audience pleasing revival of the 1993 Roundabout Theatre Rodgers and Hammerstein musical revue A Grand Night for Singing. It should please everyone of all ages, with the possible exception of some young whippersnappers who may have a congenital hatred of the classic songs of the American Songbook. Although, if a way could be found to entice them to see it, this production might change their feelings.

A Grand night for Singing consists of 37 Rodgers and Hammerstein songs sung in whole and in part, and often in thematic groupings or medleys. The songs are oft times performed in strikingly original and delightful arrangements which impart unexpected styles (i.e., jazz, cabaret) and with staging and juxtapositioning which provides intriguing new contexts.

What makes this production special is the serendipitous combination of exceptionally fine vocal performances, bright, varied and original arrangements, and a room (theatre) in which the sound is so perfect that each unamplified note sung by the actors and played by the instrumentalists emerges with warmth and clarity. During complex quartets, quintets and sextets, the ability to discern each blended and/or counterpointed voice is thrillingly beautiful.

During the opening medley, which is anchored by "It's a Grand Night for Singing" (from the film State Fair), the waltzers pause and Jill Cappuccino gently and beautifully sings Rodgers' semi-operatic and ravishingly beautiful "So Far" (Allegro) immediately making it apparent that A Grand Night for Singing and the Women's Theatre Company have something special in store for us. Implicit is the fully kept promise that a substantial number of the songs will be ones from lesser known shows which are not heard nearly enough. In fact, it seems that there are songs from every stage musical Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote.

Cinderella, the musical which Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for a television special starring Julie Andrews and is on Broadway in the form of a "revisal," is well represented as is their original score for the 1945 Fox film musical State Fair. The latter's beautiful "It Might as Well Be Spring," arranged in an airy, fluttery manner, is sweetly and transportingly sung by Chelsea Friedlander. Alto Perri Lauren gives a strongly rounded performance adding comic and dramatic depth to her solid vocal performance as exemplified by her wistful and angry "The Gentleman is a Dope" (Allegro).

While they cannot match the seemingly effortless vocal perfection in their lyric performances, the male contingent is largely up to the task at hand. Particularly ear caressing is the blending of the voices of tenor Chris Mortenson and baritone Joseph Elefante as they sing the tender "All at Once You Love Her" (Pipe Dream). Peter Jay Oliff most delightfully duets with Perri Lauren on the bouncy and tuneful "That's the Way It Happens" (Me and Juliet).

There are a number of creative artists who deserve to be credited, and whose names (for those familiar with them) will lend credulity to my praise. The conceiver and original director of this revue is Walter Bobbie. The arrangements are by Fred Wells, who collaborated with orchestrators Michael Gibson and Jonathan Tunick. The arrangements and orchestrations (now arranged for piano and bass) are in the hands of musical director-pianist Warren Helms. As I've noted before, Helms is an outstanding musician and teacher (Julliard) at the top of his profession who is a rare asset. Bassist Tim Metz (Bass) is also a musician of note. Director Lauren Moran Mills has crisply, wittily, and stylishly staged the proceedings so as to convey Bobbie's concepts for the presentation of the score. Abetting Mills' stylishness is the scenic design of Jonathan Wentz (with lighting by Kelly Easterling) which modestly employs shades of purple, a trellis, a French door, a silhouetted view of a countryside, flowers and a few simple properties to convey a sense of elegance.

A Grand Night for Singing is a grand night for the Women's Theatre Company and its patrons.

A Grand Night for Singing continues performances (Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm/ Sundays 3 pm) through June 2, 2013, at the Women's Theater Company in residence at the Parsippany Playhouse in the Parsippany Community Center, 1130 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey 07034; box office: 973-316-3033; online:

A Grand Night for Singing music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; conceived by Walter Bobbie; directed by Lauren Moran Mills

Cast: Jill Cappuccino, Joseph Elefante, Chelsea Friedlander, Perri Lauren, Chris Mortenson, Peter Jay Oliff

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- Bob Rendell

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