Boys serenade girls on the sidewalk and girls are charmed, rather than alarmed. The handsomest man in the room will approach the strangest girl on the wall and admire her for being different. A skeptical young woman is won over by the offer of taking a ride in a surrey with fringe on top. This is not a world you live in everyday, which makes it all the more appealing to live in for the moment - a special, fleeting moment - which is the feeling, Rogers & Hammerstein’s musical revue, Grand Night For Singing conveys from its onset. Being in the audience for this play is like watching a comedy with people who laugh right before the punch line of every joke. Three familiar notes could inspire a rippling of gasps. Couples would elbow each other whispering, “here it comes,” just as a singer proceeded into a well known chorus. A Grand Night For Singing had the audience’s full attention from the moment it opened, with a spotlight shining down on Michael Harren, the musical director and pianist.
Director David Fuller creates an evening of nostalgia and enchantment with a bit of modern sass thrown in. The revue features some classic Rogers & Hammerstein songs such as, Shall We Dance, and Oh, What A Beautiful Morning and some lesser known gems that audiences may not have heard before, but will likely find themselves humming every day until they surrender to the need to hear them again. The collection of songs are performed by five talented singers: three women, Kerry Conte, Jessica Greeley and Judith Jarosz, and two men, Mishi Schueller and David Tillistrand.
There are thirty-six songs altogether, some silly, comedic numbers, others somber romantic ballads. The tunes are arranged in a nicely thematic order. A song from the musical, Flower Drum Song about two men telling their girlfriends, Don’t Marry Me, slips effortlessly into a spirited version of South Pacific’s catchy song, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair, a zesty little number about a girl emotionally detaching herself from a man who has rattled her confidence.
In an interesting director’s choice, all three female singers team up for I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair, giving this old classic a delightful, modern feel. In the past, the song has been performed by one woman – the one that was hurt by the man - with a chorus of female voices echoing her sentiments in the background. But when the song is performed by three women in harmony there is more power behind the words. The three female singers blend into one, strong confident voice. The song is no longer about a single woman’s journey to self realization, it is about three feisty girlfriends getting together to commiserate and say, “who needs him?”
Each song tells its own little story and each little story makes you want to see the larger one it has been plucked from. How does the married man who takes one last enjoyable spin with his tap dancing partners adjust to his new life as a husband? Does the boy ever get together with the girl that he is too afraid to take out for a French fried potato and a T-bone steak? Does the troubled young lover ever learn exactly how one solves a problem like Maria?
A Broadway musical in a small Off Off Broadway space offers a rare treat - great songs, great performances and an affordable price. The only thing missing is the decadent scenery with the large mechanical props that rotate on and off the stage. But the five-actor ensemble of A Grand Night For Singing proves, that with beautiful voices, celebrated music and some charming, upbeat acting - who needs all the rest?