Imagine if you took the collected works from one of the most successful Broadway duos of all time, grabbed three dozen songs at random, and threw them on the stage with nothing connecting one musical number from the next. That would describe Swift Creek Mill Theatre's latest production, "A Grand Night for Singing."
The show is a revue of the 11 collaborations of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the men who created "The Sound of Music," "The King and I," "South Pacific," "Carousel," and "Oklahoma!"
Usually a revue such as this has a story or theme that runs throughout, linking the songs together. But this show completely ignores any semblance of story, and is essentially just a mixed bag of Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes. Perhaps this is why the original run of this show on Broadway only lasted a few weeks before it closed; there is simply nothing tying the show together.
The songs picked for this rehashing of old works are quite odd. While the production has two songs from each of Rodgers and Hammerstein's worst shows, "Pipe Dream" and "Me and Juliet," it has only one from their most well-known work, "The Sound of Music."
Because of the absence of plot, the numbers lose any sort of meaning, turning the production into nothing more than a night for singing. The numbers lose their spark because both the audience and the actors have no idea what they are about. When Georgia Rogers Farmer and Katrinah Carol Lewis sing "Stepsister's Lament," from "Cinderella," they are simply singing. When the number is performed in the original musical the two stepsisters ham it up by physically assaulting each other.
How do you solve a problem like "Maria"? Certainly not by turning the "Sound of Music" tune sung by frustrated nuns into a lovesick lament sung by Brandon Becker. This kind of gender switching of songs can be refreshing in a revue, but usually works only if the story allows the song to be reinterpreted. Because the show is devoid of any plot, "Maria" and other songs fall flat.
Becker's choreography consists mainly of lamely swaying back and forth to the music, with a half-dozen dips and lifts thrown in. The only exciting part in the choreography comes during some of the lifts of Audra Honaker, when her too-billowy skirt gives the distinguished gentlemen of the audience a pacemaker-stressing peek-a-boo or two.
The set design by director Tom Width is atrociously bad. How do you compliment a show with no story or theme? Why, you do it with a schizophrenic set that can't decide whether it wants to be an interior or an exterior. The set's periwinkle walls have white crown moldings, which would make you think you were inside a building -- except for the flower-covered garden arches, a park bench and a pair of street lamps that tell you the setting is outside. Which is it?
The lighting design by Joe Doran is all over the place, half-lighting the actors, plunging them into full darkness, then blasting the stage with light with little regard to what is going on onstage.
It isn't as though Width and Swift Creek Mill don't know how to put on a good revue: Both the original and revival versions of "Forever Plaid" were great successes commercially and critically. Both were produced by Swift Creek and both were directed by Width.
This show might fill some with nostalgia for the days when they saw better performances of these songs, but the majority of the theater-going public should steer clear of this "Grand Night."
"A Grand Night for Singing" plays at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre through May 22. Call 748-5203 or go to swiftcreekmill.com for details. Tickets are $35, with an optional dinner buffet for $15.