‘Grand Night for Singing’ Is an Enchanted Evening

By J.E. Ballantyne, Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Musical revues, once very popular, have somewhat faded from the theater scene. The Youngstown Playhouse has resurrected this type of musical, however, in its third show of their 96th season.

“A Grand Night for Singing,” with songs by Rodgers & Hammerstein, takes the audience on a nostalgic tour of the legendary composers’ classic Broadway tunes. Directed by PatFoltz, Grand Night has an intimate, warm cabaret feel to it from the set, lighting and staging,which wraps the audience in a comfy blanket from beginning to end.

With a cast of six top-notch professional performers – James Major Burns, Connie Cassidy, Leah Ifft, Trevail Maurice, Mark MacConnell, and Kathleen Sanfrey – the revue highlights a majority of R&H’s most notable show tunes along with some of their lesser known ones. It is a swiftly moving musical tribute (less than 90 minutes) tied together in places with a flimsy weak book. But with this cast you don’t need binding threads, you just need to let the cast do their thing.

Once you get past a somewhat mish-mash of song excerpts at the beginning, the cast takes over. “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” with Burns and Ifft is a strong start with one of the most familiar show tunes of all time from Oklahoma. Burns, always a welcome stage presence at the Playhouse seemed a bit under-used in the show and Ifft gave a strong performance in her return to the Playhouse stage especially with “A Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific.

Comingoff his latest success with “Dreamgirls,” Trevail Maurice gave a moving rendition of ‘We Kiss In a Shadow” from The King & I, although excessive hand gestures seemed to cloud it up a bit. He topped that, however, later with “My Little Girl,” from Carousel.

Connie Cassidy, an area theater veteran, provided humorous renditions of “I Cain’t Say No” and “Kansas City,” both from Oklahoma.

Kathleen Sanfrey clowned it up with “The Gentleman Is a Dope” from Allegro, although she seemed a bit stiff at times until she worked her way into each number.

Mark MacConnell was in excellent voice for “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific and provided some great comedy in “Honey Bun,” also from South Pacific, with Maurice.

As an ensemble, the cast worked very well together. Voices blended well and they played off of each other as naturally as expected in this type of format. Some of the highlights in ensemble numbers were “Don’t Marry Me”(Flower Drum Song), “Shall We Dance”(The King & I), and“I Have Dreamed”(The King & I).

Staging by Foltz was simple without distracting unnecessary movement. However, sometimes it seemed that the cast had trouble finding their light on stage.

Musical director Matthew White placed the five-piece band on stage adding to the cabaret feel. This could have easily caused an overpowering effect from the band but White kept the balance perfectly throughout.

White also designed the simple set consisting of a platform, a gazebotype of structure and tables and chairs. A vertical row of musical notes rising behind the platform created a nice addition to complete the picture.

Lighting by Ellen Licitra was colorful with appropriate accents for different numbers throughout the evening. There were times, however, when a follow spot may have been helpful in lighting an actor in a darker stage area.

Costumes by Pat Petaccio were simple but elegant and added a classy feel to the evening.

“Grand Night” is an entertaining night out. If you are looking for a big splashy musical, this isn’t it, but then it isn’t supposed to be. It’s an enchanting ride down memory lane with a strong cast that delivers.

“A Grand Night For Singing”
Oct. 20, 27 at 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 25, 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Youngstown Playhouse, 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown, Ohio

Pictured at top: The cast of the Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “A Grand Night for Singing” is (front, from left) Leah Ifft, James Major Burns, Connie Cassidy. Rear: Trevail Maurice, Kathleen Sanfrey and Mark McConnell. 

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