Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Rogers and Hammerstein Challenge

My first experience with Rogers and Hammerstein was the film Carousel.  I remember thinking to myself “oh my God, they’ve been doing high kicks for twenty minutes!!  Please make them stop!!”  What can I say; I found the movie to be terribly hokey and boring.  But later in life, I got the chance to perform Carousel.  I learned just how beautiful and visceral Rogers and Hammerstein can actually be.  Yet, I’m still a little wary about seeing a Rogers and Hammerstein production because it seems we as singers digress a bit and let our acting skill go to the wayside, relying on stock gestures and movements.  This inevitably makes Rogers and Hammerstein unreal and lame.  So when Winter Opera Saint Louis put on the review A Grand Night For Singing I was anxious to see how they would handle it.  I hoped the company would pass what I call the Rogers and Hammerstein Challenge and find real artistry.

Artistic Director Gina Galati, a Saint Louis native, directed as well as performed in the review.  Instead of a formal review with the singers merely singing their individual parts, Galati set the stage as a kind of party (possibly a rehearsal dinner).  The cast entered the stage; everyone mingling, dressed quite nicely.  With all the different songs in the review, Galati and the singers connected the music to create little vignettes and stories.  There was dancing and flirting, gossip and caddiness, a marriage proposal (hey, it’s a rehearsal dinner.  Someone’s gotta be the thunder stealer), and as with every good Rogers and Hammerstein production, a matriarch figure showing guidance to the other characters.  Though there was no specific plot or leading characters, there were a few featured singers.  Galati and tenor Keith Boyer sang together We Kiss in Shadow and I Have Dreamed from The King and I.  Together, the voices made a lovely pairing.  Warm, passionate singing; the two were quite romantic.  Marc Schapman was truly the “life of the party” turning Honey Bun from South Pacific and Kansas City from Oklahoma into a rip roaring crowd pleasers.  Nora Teipen (the matriarch), sang Hello Young Lovers and Something Wonderful both from The King and I with a sensitive strength as she acted as sort of a muse bringing lovers together.  Stand out performances were Megan Higgins (the thunder stealer) singing I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy from South Pacific, Rebecca Hatfield as the *cough* party girl singing I Cain’t Say No from South Pacific and Sarah Gottman’s in-your-face performance of Im Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair from South Pacific. 

In the end, it was a good performance by all.  Every single person sang beautifully.  The party band under the direction of Steven Jarvi was a lot of fun to listen to and watch.  Choreographer Karen Brewington and dancers from Dance Center of Kirkwood put on an enjoyable tap number.  I will say, some of the performers did not meet my Rogers and Hammerstein challenge but many of them did.  For anyone who enjoys Rogers and Hammerstein, it was definitely a fun evening. 

Upcoming performances with Winter Opera Saint Louis are Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos and Giacomo Puccini’ La Boheme.  For more information:

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