‘Grand Night for Singing’ Opens at Playhouse Oct. 18

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Pat Foltz has a history with Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that goes back to her childhood.

“I grew up on a farm in Kansas and my mother would take me on a train from Abilene to Kansas City to go to the art gallery and the Starlight Theatre,” says Foltz. “We saw ‘The King and I,’ ‘Oklahoma’ and all of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows in the 1950s and ’60s.”

Foltz is putting her appreciation for the legendary theater composers to good use as director of “A Grand Night for Singing,” which opens Oct. 18 at the Youngstown Playhouse and runs for two weekends.

“A Grand Night” is a musical revue that strings together dozens of numbers from the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook.

In addition to the title song, which is from “State Fair,” the play list includes “Maria” (from “The Sound of Music”), “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” (“South Pacific”), “Shall We Dance” (“The King and I”) and “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” (“Oklahoma”).

The show jams in 35 songs in rapid succession. Without a narrator or a plot to adhere to, “A Grand Night” will clock in at around 90 minutes and will likely not have an intermission.

Audiences should not expect a re-enactment of scenes from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and film adaptations.

“A Grand Night” instead offers a different interpretation that lets it stand on its own as an entertainment property.

“It is very jazzy and has tight harmonies,” says Foltz. “It is very cabaret.”

A five-piece ensemble, led by music director Matthew White, will accompany the actors.

The style of music isn’t the only departure. There are also changes in who sings some songs. “For example, in ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,’ the singer was a nun,” says Foltz. “But here, it’s a man.”

In addition to all the time-tested tunes that are embedded in the pop consciousness, the show also samples from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lesser known musicals, such as “Allegro,” “Flower Drum Song” and “Pipe Dream.”

 As a cabaret show that flows from song to song, the stage will utilize a simple multi-use set piece.

There are also are no costume changes. Instead, the women in the company will be clad in long sequined dresses and the men in tuxedos.

The cast consists of Connie Cassidy, Leah Ifft, Kathleen Sanfrey, Trevail Maurice, Mark McConnell and James Major Burns, fresh off a starring role in September’s run of “Dreamgirls” at the Playhouse.

“A Grand Night for Singing” opened on Broadway in 1993. Directed by Walter Bobbie, it ran for 41 previews and 52 performances, and was nominated for two Tony Awards: Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical. It also earned a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Revue.

Foltz says the show represents a somewhat rare opportunity to get immersed in Rodgers and Hammerstein.  

“Not many theaters mount those productions any more,” she says, “because they’re expensive to produce.”

There is another reason some of the musicals have fallen out of the community theater repertoire. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote them in the 1940s and ’50s, and some of the dialogue comes across as dated, if not out of step with modern sensibilities.  

“You can’t even do ‘The King and I’ anymore,” says Foltz, as many will be offended by the racist overtones. “With ‘A Grand Night for Singing,’ you get the songs and don’t have to worry about the political differences.”

“A Grand Night for Singing” will be performed a 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18,19, 25 and 26; and at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and 27, at the Youngstown Playhouse, off Glennwood Avenue. Tickets are $16 ($13 for senior citizens, $11 for students) and are available at TheYoungstownPlayhouse.com or by phone at 330 788 8739. 

Pictured: 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. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.