The current offering at the Quality Hill Playhouse, “Rhapsody in Gershwin,” and highlights the life career and works of one of America’s most famous and endeared composers, George Gershwin, with a medley of songs that showcase his work from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, until his untimely death of an early age.
Of course, with the title “Rhapsody in Gershwin,” one would expect to hear the signature piece, Rhapsody in Blue. All in attendance will not fail to be impressed with J. Kent Barnhart’s performance on the classical masterpiece. And, get ready to stand. Barnhart’s wonderful performance draws audiences to their feet soon after he strikes the final chord.
Barnhart said, “I was unsure if people wanted to sit through a 15-minute solo piano piece.”
Any thoughts that the audience might not appreciate the full piece come to an abrupt halt when the roof shakes from the thunderous applause as a standing ovation rewards his flawless.
Rhapsody in Blue, by all means, highlights Act II of the show. But that’s not all that audiences enjoyed Barnhart’s signature selection of known and obscure Gershwin music. For this particular show, Barnhart selected three performers to showcase. Tim Noland, LaTeesha McDonald Jackson, and Melinda MacDonald perfectly fit the music Barnhart picked for "Rhapsody in Gershwin." To assist his orchestration, Ken Remmert on percussion and Brian Wilson on bass rounded out the performance cast.
Act I consisted primarily of Gershwin’s shorter and lighter mix of popular show tunes, which began in Tin Pan Alley, encompass the Broadway stage, and later found wider audience in many movie musicals. The show began with cast introductions and a very tuneful jazzy rendition of “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.” And from that song, the Gershwin music kept rolling out.
Some of the songs included in Act I include: “The Man I Love,” “Lady Be Good,” “That Certain Feeling,” “Someone to Watch over Me,” “Do, Do, Do,” “But Not for Me,” “Liza,” “Embraceable You,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”
For Act II, Barnhart switched gears and presented more of his serious and classical style of George Gershwin. He began with the solo hit “Summertime” from Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess. Another song from the same opera, “My Man’s Gone Now,” display Gershwin’s ability to write an aria.
To keep the mood from getting too serious, Barnhart included a couple of lighter tunes from the Gershwin songbook. Besides the two Porgy and Bess songs and Rhapsody in Blue, Act II included “They All Laughed,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “Slap That Bass, and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”
Expect to hear beautiful harmonies with any show at Quality Hill Playhouse. "Rhapsody in Gershwin" is by far no exception. Melinda MacDonald uses mainly the mid range of her vocal cords with beautiful renditions of “Someone to Watch Over Me, “Boy, What Love Has Done to Me,” “Embraceable You,” and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” McDonald give stunning performances on her solos, “The Man I Love” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Her duet with Tim Noland, “Embraceable You,” displays more of the warmer lower tone of her vocal range.
LaTeesha McDonald Jackson uses her operatic soprano voice for that certain feeling, looking for a boy, summertime, and my man’s gone now. Her voice demonstrates classical training and her operatic skills. She possesses an absolutely stunning soprano voice.
“Liza” afforded Tim Noland the chance to perform one of Gershwin’s earlier songs, made famous by Al Jolson, first on the Broadway stage and then in a movie. The song originated in the Gershwin Brodaway show, “Show Girl,” that starred Jolson and then later appeared in the movie, Till the Clouds Roll By. Noland gave a soft, tuneful rendition of the song. Noland’s rich baritone stood out in his duets of “That Certain Feeling,” “Lady, Be Good,” “Embraceable You,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” His big song in act II, allowed him to cut loose and show off his powerful vocal cords with the upbeat version of “They All Laughed.”
Barnhart as usual, provided tongue-in-cheek commentary and information throughout the show, He chimed in on a couple of duets with the ladies, and he joined his three compadres in several very harmonious quartet pieces. But the signature achievement of Barnhart’s evening was his performance of Rhapsody in Blue.
Along with the singing talent and Barnhart’s piano expertise, credit also needs to be heaped on Brian Wilson and Ken Remmert. Their accompaniment on the bass violin and percussion gave rhythm and depth to the instrumental accompaniment of all songs.
Overall, "Rhapsody in Gershwin" is a wonderful two-hour musical experience. As Barnhart said, the songs were written about 100 years ago, and people are still singing and performing them. They continue to be popular songs long after their original debut. It is such music that Barnhart said makes up the American songbook that Quality Hill Playhouse highlights and continuously performs.
No one will attend without recognizing something from this show. A quick look through the audience showed several people singing quietly to the popular songs. In one of Barnhart’s comments to the audience, he explained that several shows had already sold out and that tickets were limited for many upcoming performances. It is such continued support of his venue that keeps the music alive.
Everyone who appreciates good musical reviews needs to make plans now and book tickets. Tickets and information can be accessed by phone at 816-421-1700 or via the website: www.qualityhicomllplayhouse.