'Grand Night' a classy affair

Monday, June 23, 2003

KU's University Theatre opened its first of two summer shows this weekend with the Rodgers and Hammerstein revue "A Grand Night for Singing."

There's no better word to describe it than classy. From the costumes to the cast, it's a fitting tribute to two of the kings of musical theater.

The two-hour show has five cast members, two men and three women, singing selections from some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best-loved shows, including "The Sound of Music," "South Pacific" and "Oklahoma!" The stage is bathed in pastel light, with only a few set pieces (stairs, benches, etc.), and the women are costumed in pastel evening wear while the men wear tuxedos. Scenic/light and costume designers Dennis Christilles and Beth Collins, respectively, have done well in not overstating anything and letting the costumes and set merely complement the performers and the music.

And in a show like this, the music is definitely what's important. It comes off a bit like a "Rodgers and Hammerstein greatest hits" collection, but the show seems a bit front-loaded, with many of the bigger songs in the first act.

Which is not to say that the second act isn't chock full of hits -- there just happen to be more lesser-known songs in the second act.

Musical director Michael D. Johnson leads a quartet of musicians, and though piano dominates the majority of the material, it's augmented intermittently, and nicely, by the cello.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's works are known for their sentimentality. Nearly all the songs in this show are love songs, and the cast perfectly pulls off all the giddiness of young love.

But the cast -- and the crowd -- seemed to have the most fun on upbeat numbers like "Honey Bun" and the jazzy "Kansas City." Those two numbers gave the ensemble a chance to really show their stuff and have fun with the material.

Though there are no slackers among them, the standout performer of the bunch is tenor Dylan Hilpman, who takes the lead on "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and "Maria." He almost looks as though he's about to burst from having so much fun, and it's easy to get caught up in his (and the other performers') enthusiasm. You couldn't ask for a more satisfying, light-hearted summer show.

"A Grand Night for Singing" will play again at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday though Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the William Inge Memorial Theatre at KU's Murphy Hall.