“A Grand Night For Singing”


*****It is not often that a theater review and a Cabaret review are for the same show. On several occasions, theo Ubique, that little spot in Rogers park, has been the rare exception, but now, with the new Mercury Theater Chicago, “Season of Musicals”, another of our intimate venues has  ”married” show and cabaret with a masterful production of “A Grand Night For Singing”, the music of Rodgers ( Music) and Hammerstein ( Lyrics), featuring  featuring over 30 songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein immense songbook. Conceived bu Walter Bobbie, this is two hours of mostly memorable “Broadway” music with five wonderful entertainers and their special skills. Unlike a scripted show, although they do attempt to weave some story lines, this production has a mixture of singers, dancers and actors. When previously performed, it has been more a Cabaret piece with singers being of the highest importance. Since Walter ( executive Director ,L. Walter Stearns) truly wants his NEW Mercury Theater to become a true theater with a Broadway series, they have opted to add high power dancers ( thanks to director/Choreographer Kevin Bellie) and actors who can sing in order to make the “story” work. While the script is not really a “book show”, due to the quality of those who have put this together, I am calling it both, an evening of Cabaret and a production that can be Jeff nominated for Musical Production.

Eugene Dizon is the musical director, but as he is getting ready to begin The Mercury’s next production, he has turned his baton over to the highly talented Elizabeth Doran for this production. She handles the keyboards and has five extraordinary musicians on stage with her; Laurel Humiston (Cello),Jennifer Ruggeiri (Harp- yes, the wonderful R & H sounds are glorified by having the harp added to the  mini orchestra),Lindsey Williams ( Percussion), Anthony Parsons (Woodwinds) and Sam Filip ( Bass)- they fill the theater with the “Sound of Music”, and yes, this musical is represented. The cast of five-

Robert Hunt ( what a tenor), Stephen Schellhardt ( an actor who can also sing and does, the true “triple threat”, Marya Grandy, another dancer who can sing and act, but more the dancer and singer, Leah Morrow, who handles comedy numbers with just the right touch and can surely “shake a leg” and the statuesque Heather Townsend, who has a powerful voice and moves well. The program credits say that we have seen her in Porchlight productions in the past, but I for one cannot remember her, an dto be honest, I don’t think I could ever forget her. It may be difficult for her to “blend in ” with the others as she is a very tall dancer-type, so the eye is drawn to her height as well as her beauty and the  ear cannot mistake the wonderful voice she brings to the production. I caught her slumping a few times, probably so she would not steal the scene from her fellow cast members. I say, Heather- just be yourself and do your thing, being tall is who you are so work with it!

There is no real scenery, but rather a Cabaret feel of a nightclub ( Jason Epperson did the curtains, glitz and the lighting) and the  orchestra sits right on the stage. We have no furniture or props to hinder the work of these five talented performers and the orchestra keeps right up with them.Kathryn -Sarah Phillips does some very glitzy costumes as well, but I was bothered by the supposed wedding scene where the bride wears black ( as to coordinate with the other ladies). The men wear different types of suits and it might be easier to have tuxedos instead. I also would have liked to have had three couples or 6 performers instead of five, just for balance in certain numbers. As for the first of the new Mercury Theater “Broadway Musicals” I would have to say that Walter,Eugene and their Board should be very proud of what they have placed on their intimate theater’s stage.

“Grand” is a songfest for those who love musical theater, in particular Rodgers and Hammerstein- “Carousel” ,”Oklahoma”, “South Pacific”, “The King and I “, “Flower Drum Song”, “State Fair”,”Cinderella”,” Me and Juliet”, “Allegro” and “Pipe Dream”. The last three  mentioned are ones not often in view, but are true to what these composers brought to the stage. You will laugh, you will cry, you may fall in love, you may fall “back” in love, but one thing is for sure, you will get one of the best values in theater at the Mercury Theater. “A Grand Night For Singing” ( which by the way is grand on a Sunday afternoon as well) will continue at The Mercury located at 3745 N. Southport Ave ( Wrigleyville) through March 10th  with performances as follows:      

Thursdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $25-$59 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-325-1700 or Online at www.mercurytheaterchicago.com

If you wish to partake of the entire season, they are now selling subscriptions that  can be purchased for $100 for all four shows

Coming up- “Barnum”, “The Color Purple” and “The Christmas Schooner” for the holidays.

There are plenty of dining spots on the street including two IN the same building  Cullen’s and Deleece and valet parking at the door.

To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click “A Grand Night For Singing”