Stage review: Twists on classics create 'A Grand Night'
Bre Pursell, left, Kristiann Menotiades and Katie Oxman perform classics from Rodgers & Hammerstein in Pittsburgh CLO's "A Grand Night for Singing."
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The CLO Cabaret serenades the Pittsburgh Cultural District into the new year with "A Grand Night for Singing," an opportunistic revue that revisits the sublime Rodgers & Hammerstein songbook.
Five singers perform three dozen songs, some in fragments, some fully realized, that represent the romantic and playful sides of the legendary songwriting team. Paul-Jordan Jansen, among the youthful newcomers to the CLO Cabaret stage in this production, offers a powerful baritone to songs that we thought we knew but land in new territory -- "South Pacific's" "Honey Bun," sung by a guy?
Expressive tenor John Wascavage has fun with the lighthearted fare and adds a romantic twist to "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria," from "The Sound of Music." Along with a trio of women -- CLO veteran Kristiann Menotiades, fresh-faced soprano and Point Park University graduate Bre Pursell and sassy Katie Oxman, an undergraduate in Point Park's musical theater program -- each of the cast members moves along on a course that lends a loose structure to the repurposing of tunes by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.
And what shows! Extracting songs from "Oklahoma!," "Carousel," "The King and I," "South Pacific," "Cinderella" and "The Sound of Music," among others, the resulting "Grand Night" is a stirring brew that occasionally soars. The concept, via Walter Bobbie for Roundabout Theatre Company of New York in 1993, garnered Tony nominations for best musical and best book of a musical. It's been further tweaked by director Jack Allison and choreographer Kiesha Lalama for the young CLO Cabaret cast.
Selections are ordered to propel the idea of relationship roller coasters. Ms. Menotiades lends her versatile voice to "Something Wonderful," about a woman who stays with an abusive guy, without ever referencing "The King and I." Mr. Jansen singing "This Nearly Was Mine" takes a song written for the devastating turn of events experienced by an older man in "South Pacific" and gives it a hopeful air.
That pair and a few other songs aside, choices are mostly on the jaunty side, as suggested by the lyrics of the upbeat title song from "State Fair": "It's a grand night for singing/The stars are bright above. The earth is aglow/And, to add to the show,/I think I am falling in love ..."
The pace picks up when the audience is welcomed back from intermission by Mr. Jansen singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning!" and the cast switching from girls in polka dots and boys in sweaters to formalwear. A handful of songs represents the musical "Oklahoma!" -- Ms. Pursell is an innocent girl "who can't say no," for instance -- but the rousing title number is absent, being too specific for a revue about romance.
The Cabaret at Theater Square has been transformed for "A Grand Night," with five ramps emanating from the off-center stage and accompanist Brent Alexander occupying a space between ramps at stage left. Tony Ferrieri's scenic design includes the crown of a weathered gazebo -- or is it a carousel? -- and the ruins of its support posts, plus a few benches on which to alight. Projections at their most effective transform the backdrop into a night sky, and ceiling lights strung from stage to the back of the Cabaret at Theater Square suggest a starlit night on the boardwalk.
With election madness this week and the hectic holidays ahead, "A Grand Night for Singing" provides a pleasant oasis of song in the midst of the Pittsburgh Cultural District.
It was a grand night for songwriters from George Gershwin to Hal David Monday night, when two-time Tony nominee Christine Andreas dazzled a full house at the Cabaret at Theater Square.
"I know you; you're a sucker for an impressive high note," she told the audience after hitting one for "I Could Have Danced All Night." She ambled amiably through a program that included standards performed at the White House for President "George Bush the First" and her Broadway triumphs, including songs from "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and "La Cage aux Folles."
When she sang a particularly heartfelt "Alfie," in memory of her friend, lyricist Hal David, she admonished us to listen to the conversation that his lyrics relate.
Elegantly dressed in a copper gown, Ms. Andreas shared her talent and gift for gab while accompanied with panache by her husband, composer Martin Sylvestri. Their charming banter and loving bond was evident throughout, as she sang some of his works and introduced a song from "The Countess of Storyville," his musical theater piece still in progress.
Ms. Andreas lamented that similar venues to our cabaret in New York had been closing and expressed how lucky we are to have the cabaret series that has already brought Betty Buckley and follows with Elaine Paige in March. Certainly the audience for her cabaret show Monday was a lucky bunch.
First Published November 7, 2012 12:00 am