Rodgers & Hammerstein summery song revue captivates at S. Rep
Friday, July 22, 2005
By David Cuthbert
Theater writer / The Times Picayune
The thing about Rodgers & Hammerstein songs is that they often trigger thoughts about very specific, special moments in your life.
I will always associate "Some Enchanted Evening" with my father, who lived to embarrass his nearest and dearest. When I was 4, he would stand outside my Uncle Adolph's drug store in Nashville, Mich., holding out his hat, with sunglasses on, loudly singing "Some Enchanted Evening," interspersed with pleas to passersby, "Help a poor man." My uncle would be hissing to my mother, "Get him out of here!" but by that time my father would have my brother Michael and I dancing like Pork Chops and Kidney Stew on Bourbon Street.
At Southern Rep, "Some Enchanted Evening" summons somewhat more universal imagery. Production designer Jonathan Foucheaux has turned the stage into an Americana park pavilion with columns wound with ivy, low balustrades and two grand pianos. It's roomy enough for a cast of 20 to throw out their arms and declare "It's a Grand Night for Singing!"
They sing, to paraphrase Hammerstein, under "lighting too lovely for words," a misty, nostalgic vision in their cotton candy evening gowns and white tux jackets. Older Orleanians may be reminded of the Summer Pops, which brought in stars and featured local musical talent. Producer-director Brandt Blocker has implemented his own version, with the mature, substantial voices of Chris Carey, Terri Gervais, Flo E. Presti, Amy Alvarez, Janet Shea and Tywon Morgan sharing the stage with terrific young talent we've watched grow up on our stages: Gabrielle Porter, Jeremy Reese, Keith Claverie, Kenneth Thompson, John Haas, Lindsey Price, Katie Mann and more.
They sing at least 30 well-known and a few obscure songs by Dick and Oscar: stirring, uplifting, humorous, high-spirited music and lyrics. Blocker and choreographer Jaune Buisson have staged it all with great charm and imagination. The segues, amusing song groupings and outright jokes add pizzazz, such as Carey's repeatedly thwarted attempts to sing "Oklahoma." Pianists Shirlene Gill and Elizabeth Floyd are as tireless as they are talented.
The audience cheered Carey's "Soliloquy" from "Carousel" and "This Nearly Was Mine" from "South Pacific"; Flo Presti, seen too seldom on our stages, offered an exquisitely modulated "Something Wonderful" ("The King & I") and "Love, Look Away" ("Flower Drum Song"); Gabrielle Porter's "The Gentleman is a Dope" ("Allegro"), built to a bluesy belt, and she let loose deliciously with the hoydenish "I Cain't Say No" ("Oklahoma"); Amy Alvarez was fresh and beguiling with "It Might as Well Be Spring" ("State Fair"); while Lauren Bevis' sweet "Cinderella" song "In My Own Little Corner"; Katie Mann's swooningly romantic "Out of My Dreams" and Megan Dearie's soaring "You'll Never Walk Alone" provided one highlight after another.
In the comic department, Keith Claverie's "Don't Marry Me," with Lindsey Price ("Flower Drum Song"), was musical theater clowning at its best, meriting an encore, and Claverie and Tywon Morgan team up to great advantage on "A Fellow Needs a Girl" ("Allegro"). Shea, Presti and Dearie did "The Stepsisters' Lament" proud, but nothing could top Morgan and Shea's "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," which is inspired merriment. Gervais' stunning, heartfelt simplicity on "What's the Use of Wonderin?" is part of a moving three-song suite from "Carousel" and Gervais and Shea do ruefully well on "Hello, Young Lovers."
And there's lots more singers and songs where those came from. "Some Enchanted Evening" offers two hours of pure pleasure, beautifully sung and buoyantly staged.