Monday, December 25, 2023

"Some Enchanted Evening" at Artistry

From Oklahoma! to The Sound of Musiccomposer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated on nine musicals written for the stage, plus one for TV and one for film. A few of them were forgettable flops, but among them are some of the most enduring musicals of the 20th Century. In their less than 20 years of writing musicals together, they reinvented the form. This holiday* season, Artistry is paying tribute to their work with the lovely musical revue show Some Enchanted Evening. With no spoken dialogue, five talented performers tell the story of a group of people stranded at a cozy bar during a snowstorm, entertaining each other (and us) by singing songs. It is, indeed, an enchanting 70 minutes or so, and a great way to close out 2023, with five final performances this Thursday through Sunday.

The show takes place in a cozy vintage bar all decked out for the holidays. We hear on the radio voiceover that a snowstorm has closed all roads, stranding five people in the bar. It turns out to be not such a bad place to wait out the storm. These five people (who, if not friends before, certainly are by the end of the evening), while away the time by singing the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The well-chosen selection of songs (by show creator Jeffrey B. Moss) represents nine different musicals, with one song flowing into the next. It's constructed in a way that we begin to see the parallels between the shows and songs, that sometimes speak to each other in interesting ways. "There is Nothing Like a Dame" (South Pacific) is followed by "The Gentleman is a Dope" (the rare flop Allegro), a clever mash-up includes "An Ordinary Couple" (The Sound of Music, cut from the film), "When the Children are Asleep" (Carousel), and "Don't Marry Me" (Flower Drum Song). It's astounding how many great songs this pair wrote, and fun to play name-that-show with each song. The songlist is printed in the program in case you miss some, but I think there are even more songs than are listed, particularly in the opening and closing numbers and a few other mash-ups of songs that may just include a line or two from each.

Julia Ennen, Deidre Cochran, Audrey Parker, Bradley Johnson,
and Roland Hawkins (photo by Scott Knight)
On opening weekend of this two-week run, two of the five performers were understudies (covid and other stuff is still going around - stay safe out there!). But fortunately for Artistry, they had two fantastic swings waiting in the wings in Audrey Parker and Evan Tyler Wilson. They joined cast members Deidre Cochran, Julia Ennen, and Roland Hawkins II to form a dynamite quintet. The full original cast should be back next week (including Serena Brook and Bradley Johnson), but regardless, this is a talented group of performers. Not only do they sing beautifully, in solos, duets, or group numbers, but they also convey not only the story of each song, but the larger story of this group hanging out and enjoying being together. Highlights include Audrey's playful "I Cain't Say No" (Oklahoma!), Evan's gorgeous "Younger than Springtime" (South Pacific), Deidre's moving "I Have Dreamed" (The King and I), Julia's lovely "Out of My Dreams" (Oklahoma!), Roland's show-stopping performances of "If I Loved You" (well paired with Julia) and "Soliloquy" from Carousel (someone please cast him in this show), and any time these five glorious voices join together in harmony.

there's a White Christmas on stage, if not in real life
(Audrey Parker, Roland Hawkins, Julia Ennen, Bradley Johnson,
and Deidre Cochran, photo by Scott Knight)
Directors Allyson Richert and Ben Bakken have successfully created a warm convivial feel among the performers, telling a story with no spoken words. The stage has several cozy spaces - a bar, tables, a stage, a Christmas tree, all well utilized to stage mini scenes throughout the piece. The cast is dressed in '50s era festive fancy wear, including outerwear (costume coordinator Rane Oganowski), and is accompanied by the fabulous dueling pianos of Mindy Eschedor and Anthony Sofie, with music supervision by Andy Kust.

Artistry was dark for almost a year as they went through some financial issues and restructuring. But they came back strong this year, with four very different but all wonderful musicals - the rarely done classic The Pajama Game, the inspiring Godspell, the hilarious Spelling Bee, and now this lovely tribute to some of our greatest musicals. 2024 looks just as exciting, and includes the return of recently retired Resident Music Director Anita Ruth directing a 20-piece orchestra in the Gerswhin musical Crazy for You, more Rodgers and Hammerstein in my sentimental favorite The Sound of Music, the dancing newsboys of Newsies, and another personal favorite that has had few local productions - RENT

You can end your year of #TCTheater with this lovely musical revue, and then make plans to return to Artistry for another great year in 2024.

*Read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year here, and listen to the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers holiday preview episode of our podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat here