April 9, 2021
Get swept away by the magic of Rodgers & Hammerstein
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
With the power of a singing telegram amplified on creative steroids, one of the best sounds to resonate in a performing hall in over a year just emanated from the John Viars Theater stage at the Des Moines Community Playhouse. Musical theatre made its live return in town, breaking the silence inflicted by the pandemic 13 months ago. To the ears of all who savored every sweet note delivered by this show’s gifted quintet of performers, this was as uplifting as church bells ringing out in pure joy.
With the still real COVID constraints, the brain trust at the Playhouse needed a musical that required a small cast, but delivered a big impact. Some Enchanted Evening: The Music of Rodgers & Hammerstein fit the bill. This medley of tunes pulls the best from a musical theatre team legacy, delivering a smile-producing sequence of songs sure to satisfy everyone’s palate. Conceived by Jeffrey B. Moss, the best from the Rodgers & Hammerstein shows is deftly woven into a seamless bounty that flows from song to song and performer to performer. From the opening medley to the rousing finale, Some Enchanted Evening showers its audience in a delightful evening of musical theatre magic.
Under the skillful direction and musical direction of Katy Merriman, her gifted cast is guided through a delightful ebb and flow musical menagerie of singing excellence. The opening medley bursts onto stage, with this powerhouse quintet of Broadway-caliber singers grabbing the audience’s attention from their opening notes. The cast’s joy in performing again was obvious. Merriman knows how to create the perfect recipe of a cast, and this one is 5-star perfection. Each shines in their featured songs, while bringing multiple-voiced numbers expressive power – the kind of soul-reaching song-stories that made Rodgers & Hammerstein so successful. Matthew Nicholson, Jake Parks, Bridget Ann Johnston, Amy Burgmaier and Dani Boal are the catalytic deliverers of this memorable show. Adding to the ambience is the onstage presence of the incomparable Francine Griffith playing Piano I, and either Lee Ann Bakros or Katy Merriman (yes, a woman wearing many hats) playing Piano II. Two keyboards matched with the versatile voices in this show create a grandness and richness well beyond seven performers.
Nicholson’s national touring experience radiates, with a rich baritone voice that rattles the chandeliers with its range, depth and warmth. He soars in numbers such as “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and “Soliloquy.” Although he lacks the power of his male counterpart (few performers could match it), Parks adds a nice balance. His expressive delivery works well, especially in more gentle songs like “Maria.” The trio of women are collectively and separately one of the most dynamic trios to share a stage at the Playhouse. Johnston’s operatic background plays into this songbook beautifully, as she often soars to the stratosphere with her crystalline voice. “It Might As Well Be Spring” was a highlight. Burgmaier adds a captivating level of stage presence to her featured work, developed through her years of performing in national tours. Her song-styling, vocal precision and charisma bring a special dimension to this cast, with “I Can’t Say No” (complete with Ado Annie sass) and “Something Wonderful” as high points. Boal’s voice adds nuanced levels to the show, with her captivating vocal allure in such numbers as her “I Have Dreamed.” The three women join forces for a fun frolic in “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair,” bringing the audience to a delighted, enthusiastic applause.
The scenic design (given stellar cohesiveness by the gifted Jay Michael Jagim) gives enhancing focus on the performers. Subtle, shimmering lighting (master of illumination, Virgil Kleinhesselink) provide a spectrum of changing moods, with floor-to-ceiling sheers behind a versatile ramp-and-steps lending a flow to this show. While a few missed lighting cues left some actors in the dark briefly, nothing shook the audience from their enchantment of the visuals and music. The men were nattily dressed, but it was Angela Lampe’s extraordinary costume design attention to draping exquisite gowns on each of the women that provided an ongoing cascade of fabric-inspired sparkle spilling onstage throughout the show. In short, the visual magnificence enhanced the excellent performances.
There are a few times when all five performers unite in production numbers, giving the audience the full power of Rodgers & Hammerstein. These numbers, bookended by the opening and closing medleys with several company numbers in between, captured the full musicality and theatrical glory from these musical theatre masters. For everyone who has been waiting for the return of locally produced musical theatre, the wait is over. Some Enchanted Evening will replenish your reservoir some of the best musical theatre delivered by an exceptional cast.
The Culture Buzz theatre reviews are written by professional writers to inform and enlighten. To receive weekly newsletters, email TheCultureBuzz@gmail.com or visit www.TheCultureBuzz.com. The Culture Buzz is a weekly broadcast/streaming arts & entertainment collection of conversations, airing Wednesdays 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Central Time on KFMG 98.9 FM and streaming at www.kfmg.org.