Great songs and fine singing were the name of the game on October 11,12,13, at Terry Concert Hall on the campus of Jacksonville University. The musical theatre department presented Walter Bobbie’s A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING, a musical revue featuring thirty-four songs by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein. This musical debuted in New York in 1993 and was nominated for two Tonys, for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.
The show contains songs from several of the greatest hits in musical theatre, including “The King and I,” “Cinderella,” “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” and “The Sound of Music.” Songs from less well known productions like “Me and Juliet,” “State Fair,” “Pipe Dream,” and “Flower Drum Song” proved to be bouncy , pleasant and equally entertaining to the appreciative opening night audience. Part of the fun in watching this show, at least for us as critics, was successfully identifying which songs came from which show.
The very intimate Terry Hall was perfect for this cabaret performance. Director KIMBERLY BEASLEY, Assistant Professor of Voice at JU, and Technical Director BRANDON LETTOW created the set that used the entire stage from end to end. The set included palm trees, a supper club table and chairs on the left side, and a long white garden bench on the far right. Center stage had two brick columns connected by a string of lights. The six-piece orchestra, which included a very large grand piano, was at the back. Lighting Designer MICHAELA WRIGHT lit that back curtain with a variety of changing colors to reflect the varied moods of the songs.
Costumers ADDA LAPLACELIERE FUENMAYOR and ALEX RUBIO had the two male singers in tuxedos. The three lovely ladies wore jewel-toned formal gowns.
The energetic two-hour production was performed by a cast of fervently serious musical theatre people, with ALEC HADDEN, RAQUEL LOPEZ, LEANNA BROWN, CHRIS ROBERTSON, and SAMANTHA WICKLUND. If some of the names seem familiar to you, that is because the performers have been active on other local stages, having shared their considerable talents at ABET, Theatre Jacksonville, Players by the Sea, and the Alhambra.
All of the performers are in the Musial Theatre program and their excellent instruction in voice became immediately evident as each member of this impressive cast has a distinctive vocal style. And when singing as an ensemble, their voices blended beautifully.
Each performer had several solos, and was joined by the rest of the cast at times. On Friday night, the two show stopper numbers, based on the audience reaction and applause, were “Honey Bun” from “South Pacific,” with Mr. Hadden and his accompanying “sailors,” and a vivacious “Kansas City” from “Oklahoma,” by Raquel Lopez, joined by the entire cast.
We especially liked Samantha Wicklund’s rendition of “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” from “Cinderella” and Leanna Brown’s charming “A Wonderful Guy” from “South Pacific.”
We have followed Chris Robertson’s theatrical career since we first saw him as a child actor in “The Sound of Music ” some years ago. In this show he once again was in the spotlight with a song from that musical, “Maria.”
This musical revue was lively throughout, due to the fine directing from Ms. Beasley and the creative choreography of VICTORIA MILLER, who emphasized humor in the dance routines.
“Be prepared” is a Boy Scout motto, but also one used in theatre, or one that should be, so there were understudies for each of the major players. Though they were not called upon to fill in on opening night when we saw the show, they provided valuable backstage support and included SADIE SCHNEIDER, PARKER LAWHORNE, ALEXIS INKS, MATTHEW ROBERTSON AND HALEY COX. MAGGI COURTER handled the two important positions of Stage Manager and Assistant Director.
The orchestra performed superbly and was a delight to watch since they were on the stage behind the performers. They were led by Music Director JAY IVEY (piano), KIM YORIO (reeds), JAZZMIN GALMORE (percussion), JOSEPH ENGEL (cello) PETER MOSELY (bass) and EDIE HUBERT (harp). The talented Mr. Ivey has written original music for “Eurydice,” an upcoming production that opens on October 25 at JU’s Swisher Theatre.
We absolutely loved this show. Who could resist the audience hugging charisma of the songs in this musical? “A Grand Night for Singing” has some of the most durable and popular songs of American musical theatre and Jacksonville University presented them to perfection.