The theatrical universe has taken a giant step towards normalcy with the reopening of in-person productions at the venerable Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.
The production they have selected - the Rodgers and Hammerstein jukebox musical A Grand Night for Singing, is an ideal choice. The music of the composing team has a universal appeal. The show has a small cast performing selections - both well-known and obscure - from the duo’s songbook. They include songs from their decades long partnership including selections from Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I, Carousel, and Me and Juliet. Think of the show as comfort food for the theatrical soul or a soothing breeze coming off the adjacent Connecticut River.
The overall tone is low-key, with a few flourishes by the talented five-person cast, performing on a bare stage, with minimal props, a few costume changes, and backed by a superb seven member onstage orchestra.
Songs are not necessarily delivered the way audience members might remember from spinning their 33 ⅓ LPs. Director Ron Ruggiero, a frequent collaborator at the Goodspeed, states in the program notes that his goals for the productions was:
To revisit the music with a contemporary lens so the songs remain fresh and relevant
A commitment to making sure the company of actors reflect the world we live in today
To represent an authentic celebration of diversity onstage
He has scored on all three. The artistry of Rodgers and Hammerstein is that many of their works are wonderfully crafted into mini stories, radiating with emotion, that are open to new interpretations and creativeness. In A Grand Night for Singing some of the song’s usual gender roles have been reversed, producing a whole new meaning to the selections. Other songs, such as “Honey Bun” from South Pacific, have been jazzed up. There are dozens of musical numbers in the show including The Surrey with the Fringe On Top (Oklahoma!), Hello, Young Lovers (The King and I), If I Loved You (Carousel), Shall We Dance? (The King and I), It Might As Well Be Spring (State Fair), Maria (The Sound of Music), and Some Enchanted Evening (South Pacific)
The five actors/actresses - Jasmine Forsberg, Maurico Martinez, Jesse Nager, Mamie Parris, and Diane Phelan - have solid musical theater credentials and perform each piece with flair and gusto. Their acting prowess comes into play throughout the production, which only heightens the selections presented on stage.
Rob Ruggiero’s guidance is more subtle and understated. However, there is a confident and assured intention to his direction. He allows the songs to speak for themselves without adding distractions or fluff.
Choreographer Lainie Sakakura enlivens the show with choice dance routines, most notably in “Honey Bun,” “Kansas City,” and “Shall We Dance.” They are compact, with bursts of joyfulness and whimsy.
A Grand Night for Singing, an entertaining tonic for theater-goers of all ages. Playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 28.