So many performances these days seem to be getting bigger, flashier, more colorful, more dramatic, more incredible.
The Showbiz Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics was none of those things.
Yet there is something magical about going back to the simplicity of music.
And this was music beautifully presented and flawlessly performed, with a full orchestra, incredible soloists and a chorus of 120 voices.
It was an old fashioned style performance – the full orchestra dominated the stage, conductor front and centre in immaculately shined shoes. The chorus stood in rows, 120 white faces, while the soloists came and went in suit jackets and fairytale gowns.
The soloists were incredible, each bringing strong voices and powerful performances.
When surrounded by a chorus of 120 other voices, stealing the stage cannot be easy – but soloist Greta Casey-Soley managed it, bringing huge energy and fun to ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ from the Carousel.
The chorus pieces, ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’ from The King and I and ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of music, got so many heads nodding and toes tapping in the audience it added an extra layer of percussion.
Conductor and musical director Richard Marrett brought incredible energy to the stage throughout. Each piece flowed together so well it was easy to get lost in the music, and the show seemed over far too soon.
Even after the curtain fell and the audience spilled onto the street, the excitement was infectious. People lingered, heading down New Regent St for coffee or gelato, or gathered in laughing, chattering groups on the footpath.
One tall young orchestra member stood leaning on his instrument case on the street, listening solemnly as two beaming white haired ladies exclaimed over how much they loved the show. One couldn’t contain herself and bounced up and down on the spot joyfully.
And that said it all – more than 70 years after some of these pieces first hit the stage, they have lost none of their magic.
by Kate Divett
As a child I used to save all the hokey-pokey bits in my ice cream until the end, savouring the sweet morsels in one giant mouthful. This feeling came back to me in the Isaac Theatre Royal during An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics.
As hokey pokey is to icecream, the performance is a smorgasbord of hits from the Golden Age of musical theatre – the best songs from the great musicals that paved the way for the shows of today. The affect of this is much like eating all the hokey-pokey bits in one go – everything is the best, which is definitely a guilty pleasure and perhaps a little overwhelming.
The content of the show will not leave many disappointed. Songs cover the breadth of the Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership – Carousel, State Fair and The King and I in the first act, followed by South Pacific, The Sound of Music and Oklahoma! after interval. That there are so many well-known songs in this small range of musicals is a testament to the timeless influence of this musical collaboration. My personal preferences and connections with the music meant I preferred the second act to the first, but there were favourites for everyone throughout. The staging of the show as a concert draws the attention to the musical and lyrical mastery of these works.
Having chosen a show that contains a grab-bag of smash hits – and without the luxury of scenery and character costumes – it was up to the performers to meet the challenge and deliver equivalent performances. This was met by most.
Richard Marrett’s assembly of a 120-strong chorus provided the grunt and depth of sound that is often not possible in smaller stage productions, which was a delight whenever their curtain was lifted. Highlights included a rollicking and intricately arranged Do-Re-Mi, and the men sounded magnificent in There is Nothing Like a Dame. It was marvellous to have the orchestra join the vocal performers on stage, which allowed us to collectively appreciate their work and talent during instrumental interludes.
It must be said that among the soloists there were some standout performances that engaged more than others. Jack Fraser was one whose confident and relaxed stage presence flourished in this setting, working naturally with the orchestra and communicating the narrative of the songs. His voice is superb.
Greta Casey-Solly captured the audience’s attention in June is Bustin’ Out All Over and held it in My Favourite Things. Nigel Withington’s Climb Ev’ry Mountain was the emotional peak of the show, he gave a performance worthy of the Mother Abbess herself. Michael Bayly had the misfortune to have followed Donna Alley’s stunningly controlled and powerful performance of You’ll Never Walk Alone – in contrast, Bayly’s Soliloquy drifted and lacked consistent energy. Jane Leonard and Nick Hollamby have effortless, smooth-like-butter voices that worked with the music to transport us to an altogether more enchanted evening.
All in all, An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics is everything it should be – a retrospective savouring of musically and lyrically decadent show-tunes, brought back to life in a way that ends up being both sickly-sweet and yet delightfully indulgent. A guilty pleasure indeed.
By Jenny Sew Hoy Agnew
One of the advantages a local production has over an international touring show is the partisan audience of family and friends of the performers.
Showbiz’s audience for An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics was no different.
Richard Rodgers’ familiar music, coupled with Oscar Hammerstein’s witty lyrics, was presented delightfully and wowed the crowd.
All around me I could hear snatches of words or humming of the tunes.
My companion had to nudge me at times to shut me up!
These songs were definitely the best from the Golden Age of musical theatre.
The addition of the entire NASDA student body gave a youthful aspect to the established Showbiz chorus and swelled the numbers to 120.
To be able to provide solo spots to individuals from this chorus is a wonderful example of the talent we were so lucky to hear.
Jane Leonard showed again both her acting and her singing abilities, especially in “Mr Snow” from Carousel. Nigel Withington wrung good advice from “Climb every mountain”, usually Mother Abbess’s solo in The Sound of Music.
Nick Hollamby joined Jane Leonard to exhort each other not to show their partiality, worrying that “People will say we’re in love”, from Oklahoma!
Not every song was rip-roaring and pacey like the finale. The tragic “We kiss in a shadow” from The King and I, was a truly moving duet by Celine Rosa Tan and Nigel Withington.
It was a pleasure to be able to hear the words of the lyrics.
The soloists’ clear diction enabled us to appreciate the stories told by the songs.
The always splendid Richard Marrett energetically conducted the 30 piece Broadway-style orchestra.
The CSO was acknowledged for its fine contribution to the evening.
The percussionists always seemed on the move.
How fortunate Christchurch is to have musicians of such calibre!