A Grand Night for Singing will likely transport audiences to the South Pacific. Make that a cruise ship headed to the South Pacific since this Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway revue feels more like an on-board lounge act than a night at the theater. Most of the song arrangements are as outdated and unimaginative as the show’s set and costumes which harken back to the days of Lawrence Welk in an unironic way.
Originally presented in cabaret-style at New York’s Rainbow & Stars at Rockefeller Center, the show was nominated for a Tony Award under the direction of Walter Bobbie in 1993. But that was 20 years ago and one can only assume Jeff Award-winning director and choreographer Kevin Bellie did little to update the Chicago production.
As a result, the otherwise timeless music of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein comes off as aged despite efforts to provide a fresh spin on songs by placing them into new contexts, an effort that works for The Sound of Music’s Maria and The King and I’s Shall We Dance but fails miserably with Kansas City from Oklahoma!.
Surrey with the Fringe on Top, also from Oklahoma!, fares much better although the introduction of Many A New Day and sampling of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' and People Will Say We’re In Love serve only as a tease since that’s all the audience gets of these well-crafted songs while the tedious I Cain’t Say No is sung in its entirety.
Wisely, the show just performs one song from Carousel and Allegro. Other choices are questionable as only one full song from The Sound of Music is performed yet much time is spent on five numbers from Cinderella.
Fortunately South Pacific has a strong showing with favorites I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy, Honey Bun, and Wash That Man performed in the first act and This Was Nearly Mine in the second.
The rest of the second act is dedicated to more obscure songs from Me and Juliet, State Fair, Pipe Dream, and Flower Drum Song so the show doesn’t stop with show-stopping numbers that would otherwise have audiences singing and dancing on their way out.
Singers Robert Hunt, Leah Morrow, Heather Townsend,Stephen Schellhardt, and Marya Grandy are backed by a live five-piece band under the musical direction of six-time Jeff Award-winner Eugene Dizon but with 30 songs—only about half hits and none sung by a recognizable headliner—this revue opts for quantity over quality.
Featuring Robert Hunt, Leah Morrow, Heather Townsend,Stephen Schellhardt, and Marya Grandy, A Grand Night for Singing runs through March 10, 2013 at The Mercury Theater on 3745 North Southport. Tickets range from $25 to $59 with discounts for groups of 10 or more. For details, visit www.mercurytheaterchicago.com.