As our screens for this virtual performance signal the beginning of show, we see lights come up on the stage at North Shore Performing Arts Center. The sounds of Richard Rodgers’ earlier hits begin to play, and the camera gives the audience a close up of the orchestra. Linda Madonia on piano, Cara Hartz on woodwinds, Joseph Krzysiak on Bass, and Joey Zymonas on drums. All distanced, and almost all masked. Each has their moment to shine as they play – letting the music consume them and even dancing along to the rhythm in their seats as the volume builds, and they prepare for the start of the concert.
If you miss attending live musicals, you may find yourself struck by the beauty and excitement of seeing the orchestra take the stage for the overture. They may be fully masked and socially-distanced, but this theater has discovered a way to start bringing some of the live music back to its audiences. You may even find yourself dancing along in your own seats as you watch the excitement wash over the musicians, waiting for the performers to take the stage.
Music Theater Works presents Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits
Directed by Adrian Abel Azevedo, Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits takes the audience through decades of music from various points in Rodgers’ life. While the first act explores the repertoire through his collaboration with Lorenz Hart, the second features hits primarily from the relationship with Oscar Hammerstein II. All songs are performed by an ensemble of four - Curtis Bannister, Alicia Berneche, Lydia Burke, and Juwon Tyrel Perry.
The evening includes many famous numbers including Falling in Love with Love (The Boys from Syracuse), My Funny Valentine (Babes in Arms), Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ (Oklahoma), Impossible, It’s Possible (Cinderella), You’ll Never Walk Alone (Carousel), and Climb Every Mountain (Sound of Music). Some solos, some duets, and some are even featuring all four cast members at the same time. Azevedo and the team explore how to build an in-person musical revue as safely as possible, using staging and theatricality to heighten the storytelling.
The ensemble of four features strong vocalists – each bringing their own sparkling stage presence and fun to their numbers. Much like the opening instrumental overtures, you may just find yourself wanting to dance and bop along with the performers as they make their way through the program.
Bannister kicks off Act Two with Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin – one many musical theatre fans will likely recognize as Curly’s opener from Oklahoma. Most of the numbers earlier in the evening start with performers on stage at their microphones; however, Azevedo and Bannister take a different tactic with this opener. The camera moves around to show backstage, with Bannister slowly making his way from off Stage Left – complete with a cowboy costume and hat. Bannister’s face clearly demonstrates the fun he is having as he embodies his character, and the vocals bounce off the rafters – almost making it feel like we are in the theater with him. The theatricality brings even more joy to the event, in this writer’s view, and adds some thrill to the beginning of the second act, appropriately setting the mood for what is to come.
Perry and Burke up the excitement as the evening goes on with their performance of Impossible, It’s Possible from Cinderella. In the original musical, this number marks the moment that the fairy godmother uses her magic to get Cinderella ready for the ball. Here, Perry is the Fairy Godmother and Burke is Cinderella. The stage is flooded with purple and black lighting, which bounces off Perry’s gold sparkly blazer and wand. We even see a distanced scene unfold – with Perry’s stellar vocals and snarky character inspiring Burke’s Cinderella to find the courage to follow her dreams and meet the Prince. We feel the magic! We feel delight! For those who miss seeing live musical theatre, this scene alone helps fill the void.
Full of Hope
While the evening is full of fun jaunty numbers, the program also features some somber, more emotional pieces balancing out the feel. When it’s upbeat we feel the actors’ comedic stage presence. The slower ballads allow room to really appreciate the cast’s vocal range and talents.
You’ll Never Walk Alone and Climb Every Mountain close out the evening. The staging is simple: the four actors stand in a horizontal line on stage at microphones. We see the four performers on stage. They are distanced and the orchestra is masked; however, in this time of isolation and challenge in producing any kind of live theatre, we see the beginnings of what might be possible. You too may find that this minimalism helps heighten the pieces, and allows an opportunity to take in the excitement of that which is unfolding on stage. The numbers themselves are full of hope, with uplifting lyrics about rising above challenges and finding strength in togetherness.
Stellar performers and stand out musical numbers make Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits an enjoyable way to spend the evening. Whether you are a die-hard fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein or simply enjoy a good musical, there is a little something for every fan of musical theater in this line-up.
Juwon Tyrel Perry
Adrian Abel Azevedo… Director
Roger L Bingaman…. Music Director and Conductor
Linda Madonia… Piano
Cara Hartz… Woodwinds
Joseph Krzysiak… Bass
Joey Zymonas… Drums
Maggie Hart… Lighting Designer
Michael Patrick… Sound Designer
Joe Gallagher… Videographer
Now extended through October 18, 2020.
Online via video link.
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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