It's a very rare thing to come across a show that embraces its simplicity with virtually zero pretense. A Grand Night for Singing at Mercury Theater is such a show. This perfectly enjoyable musical revue celebrating the classic scores of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein isn't afraid to make the songs the star by featuring five excellent singer/actors backed by a sparkling six piece ensemble featuring two strings, harp, piano, woodwind and percussion (excellent music direction by Eugene Dizon)."
Unlike another revue taking place in the northern suburbs honoring a popular West End composer, this show begins with a subtle prelude: a bass and piccolo echoing the sounds of twilight -- a chirping bird, a sunrise, a new beginning. A cello hums in and the cast strolls out to welcome us with "The Sounds of the Earth," which gradually transforms into a lilting opening medley. From there, the cast (including Marya Grandy, Robert Hunt, Leah Morrow, Stephen Schellhardt and Heather Townsend) trade off with each other in pairs, trios and solos to explore R&H's penchant for the themes around new love, lost love and hopeful love.
Now, an evening of R&H could leave a syrupy sentimental aftertaste. With overload, Oscar's lyrics, while brilliant in their simplicity, could easily veer into banal. However, Walter Bobbie, who originally conceived the piece, chooses a smart mix of ballads, comedy numbers and duets, and mixes them up. So, we have a jazzy remix of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and a guy (the earnest Schellhardt) professing his love to "Maria" -- a tune typically sung by a gaggle of frustrated nuns. However, Bobbie knows when to stick to the tried and true, and lets the evening's baritone (here, the hearty-voiced Robert Hunt) belt out the haunting "This Nearly Was Mine." And with Kevin Bellie's understated choreography, the evening spins along with spades of charm and class.
"A Grand Night for Singing" plays through March 10 at the Mercury Theater. More info here.