Review “A Grand Night for Singing”

RECOMMENDED

Where: Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave.
When: through March 10
Tickets: $25-$59
Phone: 773-325-1700

The Mercury Theater is kicking off its first subscription season of musicals with “A Grand Night for Singing,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein revue that made its Broadway debut in 1993. Directed and choreographed by Kevin Bellie, this is a crowd-pleasing choice that brings together more than 30 songs, most of them romantic ballads and comic ditties, from such hits as “Carousel,” “Oklahoma!,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music” and “South Pacific,” as well as lesser-known shows like “Allegro,” “Me and Juliet” and “Pipe Dream.”

Performed here by a quintet of singer-dancers – Robert Hunt, Stephen Schellhardt, Marya Grandy, Leah Morrow and Heather Townsend – backed by a six piece on-stage band led by pianist Elizabeth Doran, the lively evening is distinguished by more than the usual amount of choreography, some of it quite effective and some of it rather distracting. The musical arrangements by Fred Wells and orchestrations by Michael Gibson and Jonathan Tunick also are a mixed bag. For example, treating “Many a New Day/Wash That Man” like an Andrews Sisters number works surprisingly well, but turning “Shall We Dance” into a comic spoof does not.

On top of this, some of the songs seem woefully mis-assigned. Grandy, strong in comic numbers like “I Can’t Say No,” struggled with the gorgeous “If I Loved You,” whereas Hunt could have handled it easily, as he showed with his beautiful “We Kiss In A Shadow” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” In fact, he has an operatic voice but was equally adept with the humor of “Honey Bun.” A close second, Townsend brought tears to my eyes with her direct, understated “Something Wonderful.”
Jason Epperson’s scenic and lighting design suggests an elegant supper club with gathered red-velvet drapes and a black backdrop shimmering with twinkling lights (most of the time). This is efficient but not as versatile as one might hope. Kathryn-Sarah Phillips’ costumes are as inexplicable as they are unattractive. In the first act, for instance, Morrow’s orange dress frequently clashes with the lighting; in the second, the women all wear black dresses, even though a long sequence is framed as a wedding.

Still, that’s a small complaint about what is overall an enjoyable outing. The other musicals on tap this year are “Barnum,” “The Color Purple” and the annual reprise of “The Christmas Schooner.”