Fall Season Opens on a Musical Note
Jennifer Winegardner, Michelle K. Moore and Allynn Simons
Can a review that appears after a play closes still be called a review? Probably not. So let's call this an appreciation. This year, for the first time, the demands of my day job have all but precluded my usual upkeep of my reviews pages. I still haven't even posted the PDFs of this summer's reviews. But be assured that I have them all and that I'll be posting them here as time allows.
Why bother? Well, I've come to think of myself as sort of an unofficial Surflight historian. When I'm long forgotten I actually think some scholar (or more like some relative of a Surflighter) might appreciate a record of what the theater was doing back in the early days of the 21st century. So I'm happy to oblige. Which explains why I'd like to say a few words about the two plays that started off the fall season and have now both closed.
Each of the two opening plays reminds me of a show from last fall's lineup, one I didn't care for and one I enjoyed immensely. But this year both openers worked for me. The first was A Grand Night for Singing, an appreciation of the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein. It did bear a sort of superficial resemblance to last year's tribute to Frank Sinatra, My Way. Both shows featured a small group of singers (two males and two females in My Way, two males and three females for A Grand Night For Singing) performing standards associated with the highlighted artist(s). The big difference is that while Sinatra was a singer (who can't be adequately imitated), Rodgers and Hammerstein were songwriters whose works have been and will be interpreted and reinterpreted for generations. And the interpreters in this case, Andrew Foote, Grant Golson, Michelle K. Moore, Allynn Simons and Jennifer Winegardner did a fine job. Rodgers and Hammerstein are my favorite musical composing team and it was a delight to hear some of their greatest hits, like Maria, I Have Dreamed and We Kiss in a Shadow done so well.
The staging and costumes (suits for the men, pretty dresses of the type you'd wear as a wedding guest for the women) reminded me of nothing so much as the kind of musical numbers of a then-current Broadway hit you'd see performed on the old Ed Sullivan show. But I'm not complaining. I loved the songs then and I love them still.
The second show, seemingly shadowing last season's Always, Patsy Cline, was, like its predecessor, a biography of country music star. This time it was Tammy Wynette's story that was told through her songs in Stand By Your Man. For some reason it took me a while to warm up to this show but once it got me in the mood I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
While the songs and performances are excellent I couldn't help but ponder what a challenge this play must be to cast. You not only need excellent musicians to play on stage, one of them must portray a passable George Jones (which David Andrew did superbly) while another must be a convincing Burt Reynolds. Jason Maniscalco did a surprisingly good job at capturing Reynolds in all his wisecracking, gum chewing glory.
And you need not one but two Tammy Wynettes. One to play her as an adult and another to play her as a teenager. The youngster has to be so good and resemble the adult version so well that they can both appear on stage at the same time without requiring too great a suspension of disbelief. Well they actually pulled it off. Kristin Stewart's portrayal of the adult Tammy was fantastic, which makes Cassie Carelli's simultaneous portrayal of her as a teenager all the more amazing. The online band also did a great job as did Carolyn Popp as Wynette's "mewmaw." I also liked the job newcomer John Rochette did as Wynette's all but forgotten first husband Euple Byrd.
I've noted before that as the nights grow longer and colder, Surflight's fall shows are one of the consolations that makes the coming of fall a little easier to take. If you saw these two shows, I think you'll agree.
A Grand Night for Singing ran September 6 to 17, 2006. Stand by Your Man ran September 20 to October 1, 2006.