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BWW Review: MSMT's A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING (and Dancing) Lives Up To Its Name

Maine State Music Theatre continues its impressive 2016 lineup of shows with two performances on June 20, 2016, of A Grand Night for Singing, a musical revue conceived by Walter Bobbie to showcase the glorious songs of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed and choreographed by Curt Dale Clark with tap choreography by Raymond Marc Dumont, the revue features a sixteen-member cast of young professionals drawn from the intern company and local Maine performers, who turn in a performance that offers not only grand singing and dancing, but also speaks to the huge reservoirs of talent that MSMT is proud to possess.

The original 1993 twenty-seven song revue skillfully weaves together a wide range of Rodgers and Hammerstein's works in arrangements by Fred Wells (and lovely orchestrations by Michael Gibson and Jonathan Tunick) from both their smash hits like Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, The King and I, and Cinderella, as well as gems from lesser-known shows like Allegro, State Fair, Flower Drum Song, and Pipe Dream. Patrick Fanning serves as MSMT's Music Director, conducting the wealth of melodic material with élan, delicious detail, and nuance, and eliciting from the young cast lyrical and idiomatic renditions of beloved songs such as '"We Kiss in a Shadow," "Maria," "If I Loved You," and "This Nearly Was Mine" or upbeat numbers like "Honey Bun" and "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!"

The dynamically staged and imaginatively choreographed production by MSMT's Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark - with a dazzling, intricate tap number created by Raymond Marc Dumont for "Kansas City" - is brimming with class, warmth, and humor. Clark inspires the cast to bring to their music and vignettes an infectious and embracing energy, an eloquence of emotion spiced with mischievous moments. His pacing is brisk, and he effectively builds a lively sense of character and communication among the cast members, who share their enthusiasm with the public, even interacting on several occasions with the audience in the house. By retooling the contexts of many of the songs, he is able to add a contemporary and universal touch to their appeal. Most of all, he helps these young artists find and share the timeless heart in this treasure trove of American musical theatre. Using the bare bones of the Ghost set makes for a minimal but attractive décor. The characterful, casual and subsequently elegantly formal costumes by Travis S. Grant are carefully chosen for their complementary pastel hues; the kinetic lighting by Heather Reynolds and a well-balanced sound design by Nate Dickson contribute to making this revue offers a feast for eyes and ears.

Working seamlessly as an ensemble, the youthful cast gives their all both in the big production numbers and in focused solos, amply illustrating the meaning of the musical theatre term "triple threat." They sing beautifully; they dance with technical aplomb, and they act with irresistible charm. Moreover, each and every one of them knows how to interpret a song - to make it more than a lyrical moment. Each has several occasions to shine, and Clark and Dumont have skillfully mined their individual strengths. Among the many highlights are a perky rendition of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" (Eric Berry-Sandelin, Katie Whittemore, Cameron Wright, Rachel Grindle, Hugh Cipparone, Berkley Jones); inspired vocal interpretations of "If I Loved You (Jennifer Kennedy), "It Might As Well Be Spring" (Berkely Jones)"This Nearly Was Mine,"(Matthew LaBerge); a smoldering account of "Maria" (Alex Drost); a romantic "We Kiss in a Shadow" (Giovanni DiGabrieli); a winsome "All At Once" (Marty Lauter, Cipparone), and a single verse in "Love Look Away' to bring tears to the eyes (Lauter); a feisty "Stepsisters' Lament," (Ali Sarnacchiaro, Haley Ostir, Megan Flynn); a spirited "I Can't Say No" (Molly Keane-Dreyer, Kennedy); a touching Parent Medley ( Grindle, Sarnacchiaro, Wright); a witty "The Gentleman Is A Dope" (Alex Drost, Kyle Laing, Ostir, DiGabrieli, Lauter). The numerous ensemble numbers are enhanced by the strong camaraderie and chemistry among the players, making for some memorable comic and romantic moments such as the women's septet in the sunny "Wash That Man" and the men's octet in a plaintive "Love Look Away." The choreography is expressive, lyrical, and catchy by turns - ranging from ballet and modern to jazz and tap - with such numbers as the sweeping polka of "Shall We Dance?" or the dueling tap in "Kansas City" garnering special attention. Special mention to Berkely Jones, Marty Lauter, and Kyle Laing for their dance solos and impressive technique.

To spend an evening with these magnificent Rodgers and Hammerstein classics makes it impossible not to take away a renewed appreciation for their geniuses and a love of their legacy. But A Grand Night for Singing does something else as well. It proves to be one more piece of evidence that MSMT is truly, as its catchphrase promises, "Bringing Broadway to Brunswick."

Photos courtesy of MSMT, Olivia Wenner, photographer

Evita which begins on June 29 - July 16 at the Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME, on Monday, June 20 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For tickets call box office at 207-725-8769 or visit online at www.msmt.org



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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold