‘Some Enchanted Evening’ offers fresh spins on classic songs

08/14/2014 10:34 AM

08/14/2014 10:34 AM

Going to Crown Uptown’s “Some Enchanted Evening” is like stepping back half a century to when the love affair with the music of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein was in full swing, thanks to the culture-changing successes of “Okahoma,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “Carousel.”

The glorious music is given full-throated attention – and affection – by an able and attractive cast of five performers in elegant black-and-white formal wear, who seem to be residents of a chic, posh, now sadly long-gone milieu of Rat Pack watering holes and Broadway after-hours clubs. The era is epitomized by the sleek set by Robert Morris (lights by Tyler Lessin) with twin staircases winding around two baby grand pianos topped by a stylized chandelier.

Created by Jeffrey B. Moss from more than 35 R&H classics, this revue doesn’t have a story as such. But the troupe – dynamically directed and choreographed by Maurice Sims – gives fresh spins to the familiar songs for unexpected, sometimes comic and sometimes ironic ways to appreciate them.

Contrasting villainous Jud’s dark “Lonely Room” with Cinderella’s wistful “In My Own Little Corner,” for instance, is surprisingly haunting. Having an older-but-wiser woman counseling a naive flirt about “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” gives hilarious new meaning to some lines – as does having a guy worry about “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” And having a gentleman wax eloquent about “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” to women suitable for Vogue covers rather than pinups is provocative in a whole different way.

The atmosphere is smart and smoky (without real smoke, of course), although there is an occasional dip into smugness as the players mug a bit for the audience. We essentially become part of the show as patrons of a fantasy nightclub that has appeared, like the mythical Brigadoon (sorry, that’s Lerner & Loewe but you get the idea), perhaps for this one night only. The singers are communing directly with us before they disappear back into the mists of time.

Luke Walker sings the big baritone songs worthy of “Carousel’s” Billy Bigelow or “Okahoma’s” Curly while Paula Makar uses her rich, brassy soprano/alto to do the work of “The King and I’s” Anna or “Oklahoma’s” Aunt Eller. Both have big voices that can belt to the back walls. But both also had to stretch for some notes, although, oddly, not for the important ones. The highlights, flourishes and thunderous endings were on target.

Sophia Macias and Brittney Morton have clear, beautiful, often thrilling sopranos that seem pretty evenly matched, although Macias was supposed to be the flirty ingenue like “Carousel’s” Julie or “Oklahoma’s” Laurey and Morton was to be like the more mature Nurse Nellie of “South Pacific” or “Oklahoma’s” Ado Annie. Both are poised and lovely and interchangeable.

And Austin Stang is delightfully irrepressible as the younger leading man, sort of like “Oklahoma’s” Will Parker or “South Pacific’s” Lt. Joe Cable. Stang is memorably mischievous, particularly in the highlight “Don’t Marry Me.” He makes hitting high notes sound as natural as breathing – and he also taps, even on top of a piano.

There were some initial sound problems opening night as voices were a little over-amped, giving a bit of an echo-chamber effect. But that was quickly resolved. My only concern is that the two pianists – music director Rich Bruhn and Joan Ehresman, in spirited, often brilliant, Ferrante & Teicher form – need a better way to get on and off the stage. Opening night, they just seemed to wander on, then ended up awkwardly stranded at act break and the end as the rest of the cast ducked out in the blackout.

If you go

‘Some Enchanted Evening’

What: Musical revue of Rodgers and Hammerstein crafted by Jeffrey B. Moss from more than 35 classic songs

Where: Crown Uptown Theatre, 3207 E. Douglas

Additional performances: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Aug. 23 (doors open at 5, food service until 6:30). Special shows at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 21 and 12:30 p.m. Aug. 22 (doors open at 11 a.m., lunch service until noon); no show Aug. 16.

Tickets: $60-$40 for dinner and show, $45-$25 for show only. Call 316-612-7696.

Information: www.crownuptown.com

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