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Rodgers and Hammerstein music wows audience at Chestnut Fine Arts

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"Climb Every Mountain" at The Chestnut Fine Arts Center in Olathe, Kansas

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The Chestnut Fine Arts Center opened their newest production, “Climb Every Mountain” to an enthusiastic audience March 20 with a string of musical melodies from seven of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Broadway, movie and TV successes.

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The show is based on the successful musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein and absolutely, positively entertains the audience. The blockbuster duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s created songs America still knows well. Such music in the hands of the Chestnut guarantees a musical extravaganza in store for audiences.

“It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from State Fair opened the evening. Different from most Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, State Fair originated as a movie in the 1940s and then again n the 1960s before ever mounting an adapted version or stage in the 1990s. Although not the most popular of Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, the single selection from the show set the tone for the music that followed.

Brad Zimmerman, executive artistic director for the Chestnut in Olathe, Kan. selected some of the most memorable music from six other Rodgers and Hammerstein shows for his two-hour evening of musical entertainment. His song selections came from “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific,” “Carousel,” “Cinderella,” “The King and I,” and, “The Sound of Music.”

The Rodgers and Hammerstein memories began with a trip to their first Broadway success and a brief history of how “Oklahoma!” went from almost flop to stunning success, as recanted by the ensemble cast of Kevin Bogan, Cheryl Clark, Heather Layer, Patrick Lewallen, Ashley Yvonne Wheat, and Mackenzie Zielke. The singers performed will with the back up of Zimmerman and the husband and wife duo of Ken and Lenora Remmert. Ken played percussion while also joining in on singing on several songs. Lenora played second keyboard.

Audiences heard such songs as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “Surrey with the Fringe on the Top,” “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City,” “I Can’t Say, No,” “Many a New Day,” “Poor Jud,” and “Oklahoma,” from “Oklahoma!” After that, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, adapted to the stage in musical form, “South Pacific,” took center stage with its memorable music which included, “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “Bali Hai,” “Younger than Springtime,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair,” and “Some Enchanted Evening.”

Act I ended with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s personal favorite, “Carousel.” Zimmerman and the ensemble explained how the show perplexed the legendary team until they found the correct setting and then all the pieces fell into place and the characters developed. Songs performed from “Carousel” were “June Is Busting Out All Over,” “Mr. Snow,” “If I Loved You,” “A Real Nice Clambake,” and the Act I Finale, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The second act featured Rodgers and Hammerstein’s only TV musical, “Cinderella,” which starred Julie Andrews in its original 1957 black and white telecast. From “Cinderella,” Zimmerman chose, “The Prince Is Having a Ball,” “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” “Stepsisters Lament,” “When You’re Driving through the Moonlight,” and “A Lovely Night.”

The Gertrude Lawrence musical that made a mega-star of relatively unknown Yul Brenner, “The King and I,” brought back memories of the English school teacher working with Siamese children. Songs included from “The King and I” included: “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “A Puzzlement,” “My Lord and Master,” “Getting to Know You,” “Something Wonderful,” and the most famous, “Shall We Dance.”

Act II ended with the most famous of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, “The Sound of Music.” From the legendary musical, Zimmerman featured: “Morning Hymn,” “Maria,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Do Re Mi,” “The Sound of Music,” “Edelweiss,” and finally, “Climb Every Mountain.”

Casting for the show brought together a combination of former and new performers to the Chestnut. Both Bogan and Lewallen performed on the Chestnut stage previously, as did Clark, Layer, and Zielke. New to the Chestnut stage, Wheat added her operatic high notes to the mix.

Bogan added his baritone to tenor tones to the second act, mostly with his characterization of the domineering King of Siam and the Captain Von Trapp. His solos definitely showcased his booming voice. Lewallen got the most out of Act I as the younger male with his solos from “Okalhoma!” “South Pacific,” and “Carousel.” Lewallen’s songs allowed him to use mostly his mid-range baritone. Both performed with expertise.

The women of the ensemble all had solos in both acts that allowed them to display their range from alto to soprano. Stage presence was never a question with the women as each took to the stage to belt out song after song while also jumping into the characters of the shows for dialogue. All of the women delivered great pitch perfect vocals. To single one out would be a disservice to the others.

Adding to the vocals, Remmert and Zimmerman chimed in on numbers but left most of the vocalizing to the ensemble six.

Count on the Chestnut to provide crowd-pleasing entertainment. As customary at the venue, audiences rose to their feet as soon as the final chords ring out. The show, “Climb Every Mountain,” guarantees strong crowds and sellouts. Those wanting to see the show need to call and reserve soon because shows will sell out.

“Climb Every Mountain” opened May 20 and runs through May 4 with evening performances beginning at 8. Matinees on Sunday are at 2 p.m., and select Saturday matinees begin at 3 p.m. For tickets and more information, check out the website: www.chestnutfinearts.com, or call the box ofice: 913.764.2121.

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