Theater Review: Soak up the sounds of Rodgers and Hammerstein at Riverside

By GAIL CHOOCHAN - THE FREE LANCE-STAR - May 31, 2017

If you love Broadway, you’ll love “Some Enchanted Evening.”

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts is spinning the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein in a grand musical event that celebrates a historic career beginning with 1943’s easygoing charmer “Oklahoma!” and ending with 1959’s universally adored “The Sound of Music.”

“Some Enchanted Evening,” directed by Patrick A’Hearn, is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest songwriting teams with a production that mixes nostalgia, elegance and a bit of humor.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II—composer and lyricist, respectively—were behind some of the most memorable tunes in musical theater history, collaborating on several works together.

For this production, musical numbers are shuffled and not grouped by show, and seamlessly glide from one scene to the next. Along with “Oklahoma!” songs from “Allegro,” “Carousel,” “Cinderella,” “Flower Drum Song,” “The King and I,” “Me and Juliet,” “South Pacific” and “State Fair” are also represented in the musical revue—with some more familiar than others. And if you’re a big “South Pacific” fan like me, you’ll enjoy the generous servings from this particular show.

Riverside has recruited a well-rounded vocal ensemble, as well as a handful of youth singers.

One of the standout performers is Wyn Delano, who appeared as Jud Fry in last year’s “Oklahoma!” With an insanely powerful baritone voice, he’s a perfect fit for songs like “Some Enchanted Evening.” And when he’s paired with Russell Rinker, who also possesses big vocal chops, look out. “This Nearly Was Mine” was one of the night’s more breathtaking numbers. Another showstopper: Kathy Halenda’s rendition of that inspirational “Sound of Music” number “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was also very stirring.

And with her wonderfully expressive face, Sheri Hayden injects a bit of personality into some of her songs, including “Getting to Know You,” featuring the youth ensemble, and “A Cockeyed Optimist.”

The beautifully lush songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein truly shine thanks to music director Garrett Jones and his talented crew of instrumentalists. And in this production, Jones and Co. become just as much a part of the show with prime placement center stage and lighthearted interaction with the featured vocalists. When the ladies are singing about how men are dopes, one of them says, “Not you, Garrett.”

Scenic designer Jennifer Taglieri has created a dreamy atmosphere with sparkling chandeliers and a soft color scheme; window frames and a huge moon and clouds dominate the background. Adding to the show’s refined look: Costume designer Gaye Law has the male performers mainly in tuxes with the ladies outfitted in little black dresses and promish-looking gowns, in various pastel colors.

For the most part, “Some Enchanted Evening” is a classy affair, but it lets the performers have a little fun with a couple of songs during the second round. Rinker, last seen as the bumbling dad in “A Christmas Story,” gets to fool around as Luther Billis in “Honey Bun” from “South Pacific.”

He also joins Halenda in a cutesy version of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from “The Sound of Music.” Halenda, wearing a blond ringlet wig and cradling a big swirl lollipop, goes for laughs as she sings the famous lines sung by Liesl with a shorts-wearing Rinker as Rolf riding in on a red bicycle. He returns later with Captain von Trapp’s “Edelweiss,” a far less corny and much more age-appropriate number. With just a guitar and no band, this slowed-down number is an absolutely lovely moment. “Edelweiss” is also the last song Rodgers and Hammerstein worked on together.

With a seemingly endless arsenal of musical treasures from the golden age of Broadway, “Some Enchanted Evening” is just that