Riverside kicks off 20th season with Rodgers and Hammerstein musical tribute

By JESSE SCOTT FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Hans Solo and Chewbacca. The Everly Brothers. Beavis and Butthead. Simon and Garfunkel. Mulder and Scully.

And the list goes on and on of dynamic duos that have brought so much life and color to the entertainment space.

In the musical theater world, there is one team that stands above them all—composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Perhaps the greatest musical theater partnership of the 1900s, their work includes “The Sound of Music,” “Oklahoma!” “The King and I,” “Carousel” and many more household names.

And now, much of the duo’s work is on full display for all of our area to enjoy. “Some Enchanted Evening: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein” has arrived at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts and will own the stage through July 16.

“I told our cast from the beginning that I wanted Riverside to feel like we’ve gone into each audience member’s living room and we’re making them feel truly special,” said director Patrick A’Hearn, who is also the producing artistic director of Riverside. “The way we’ve pieced this together, these are songs that will evoke a lot of nostalgia … and there will be a lot of favorites.”

“Some Enchanted Evening” is a true retrospective of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work, presented in a revue-like fashion. The Riverside space is transformed into a truly enchanting set, according to A’Hearn, boasting “a gorgeous starry background, beautiful gold windows that you can see through to a beautiful sky and our orchestra center stage.”

The songs—performed by a total cast of 13 as well as a five-piece orchestra—don’t necessarily abide by a certain chronological or thematic order and bounce from classic piece to piece. Driving the tunes is music director and conductor Garrett Jones. “Some Enchanted Evening” marks his 10th production at Riverside.

“One of the many things Rodgers and Hammerstein were brilliant at was creating individual stories within each song,” said Jones. “The materials for this show really encourage us—as actors and directors—to take the stories that the songs suggest and perhaps present them in a new contextual way.”

The result at Riverside? A healthy mix of by-the-book classics that play beautiful homage to the originals and some that may evoke slightly new meaning or feelings. Among the nearly 40 tunes that the production touches on are “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music,” “Something Wonderful” from “The King and I” and “Kansas City” from “Oklahoma!”

The primary cast is comprised of four women and three men, grouped in duos and trios throughout as well as a couple of arrangements where the guys and gals go head to head. The show also boasts a youth ensemble featuring three boys and three girls.

“They essentially get to steal the show and a little of the adults’ thunder throughout the show,” said Jones. “They certainly have fun. And at the opening of each act, there is a nice little medley performed by the kids and we’ve found places throughout the show to add in a few solos as well.”

As for the adult performers, the cast includes Riverside vet Kathy Halenda, who is making her ninth appearance at the theater.

“I’ve been really enjoying this show, primarily because it’s a challenge for me,” she said. “I’ve always been loud, I have that going for me! But [“Some Enchanted Evening”] also has beautifully trained, really smart singers in it, and as far as my breathing technique and blending, I’ve had to really work on my skills. It’s been a blast.”

“Some Enchanted Evening” is a milestone show for the Riverside organization, kicking off its 20th season in business. Also slated for this season are “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “On Golden Pond,” a first-ever “Riverside Christmas Spectacular,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” as well as “A Big Broadway Attraction” woven in between, according to A’Hearn.

“’We will be turning 20 years in June 2018,” said A’Hearn. “It was Mr. [Ron] Wehman’s vision to start this theater and his heroes were Rodgers and Hammerstein. This show is the perfect way to kick things off while also paying tribute to the man who started it all here.”

And with this show and so many exciting others on the slate in the coming year, it appears Riverside is getting even better with age.

Jesse Scott is a freelance writer and Fredericksburg native.