Quality Hill be-bops into 1950s Doo-wop Era

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By Bob Evans

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Quality Hill Playhouse, the only venue of its kind in the Kansas City metro generally builds shows around the Broadway music of the Great American Songbook, but in a radical, fun, spirited departure from the norm, “Unchained Melody” brings the focus to the AM radio top 40 charts of the 1950s as that era ushered in the Doo-Wop sounds of the younger generation.

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he music people listened to changed from the Big Bands of the 1940s and the solo performers that survived the WWII aftermath of the Big Bands to a new, fresh sound that featured younger singers and songwriters. Coupled with “Hillbilly” music, and “Rhythm and Blues” the new popular music became known as do-wop. According to J. Kent Barnhart, artistic director of QHP, the music contains distinguished cords, melodies, and syncopations far from the sounds of the Big Bands. The Bobby Soxers who swooned to Frank Sinatra were replaced by the screaming fans that adored the gyrations of a new king, Elvis Presley. Doo-Wop had arrived.

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The Billboard Top 40 charts ruled the USA as the new sounds exploded over the airways. Songs like “Rock Around the Clock,” “Sha-boom,” “Cry,” “Hound Dog,” and many more filled the airways.

“Take a romantic trip down memory lane in this cabaret revue featuring the unique American sound known as “doo-wop,” Quality Hill advertising said. “Doo-wop groups dominated the radio airwaves for over a decade, thanks to their songs’ simple melodies, tight harmonies, and frequent themes of love and relationships. Join us for a celebration of this exciting vocal style as we perform some of the most popular songs of the jukebox era, including “Sh-Boom Sh-Boom,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Blue Moon,” “Only You,” “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” “Cry,” “Where the Boys Are,” “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons,” and “At the Hop.” With hits like these and more from the Baby Boomer generation, you’ll fall in love with the ’50s all over again.”

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The Fabulous Fifties could not be better represented than with the current show at Quality Hill. The only problem lies in that so many favorites became classics that one show cannot begin to encompass them all. Audience members will leave QHP with tender memories of how each song fit into his or her life. The music the Baby Boomers grew up listening, singing, dancing, and romancing to take on newfound life with “Unchained Melody.”

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For this show, destined to be one of the season’s favorites, J. Kent Barnhart called upon his usual combo partners, Ken Remmert on drums and Brian Wilson of bass to keep the memories bombarding theater-goers and keep their toes tapping. Different from many past shows, “Unchained Melody” featured songs the audience knows well and can sing along (quietly, in their head) as the performers light up the stage with their mix of harmonious backgrounds and featured voices.

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For “Unchained Melody” the show featured more quartet action more so than individual performances. Almost all singers contributed on almost all songs. Samantha Agron, Christina Burton, Tim Noland, and Robert Eric Sobbe belted out hit after hit as the show progressed. Even Kent Barnhart added more than usual and used the lower register of his vocals in several numbers.

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Agron specifically stood out in a delightful and powerful rendition of Connie Francis’ hit, “Who’s Sorry Now.” Christina Burton let her vivacious personality shine through on “My Boyfriend’s Back.” “Tim Noland crooned “Only You.” And Robert Eric Sobbe channeled his inner Johnny Ray for “Cry.” Amazingly, Sobbe is so young, he must have watched and listened to Ray’s song to find his delivery.

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Barnhart assembled strong, powerful voices for this show, yet the music of the era did not match the abilities of the cast. Agron, Burton, Noland, and Sobbe each have vocal range and power that is not featured in the music of the Fabulous Fifties. One song that definitely used the masculine range was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” where Noland did the featured solo and Sobbe dialed up an operatic male soprano for the high parts. That and Agron’s “Who’s Sorry Now were the standouts of the show.

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A 10-12 minute medley of The Four Seasons brought the Jersey boys’ songs to life. Also, a medley of Carol King songs fit well into the evenings bill of fare. Barnhart selected so many fabulous favorites that the evening could have gone on for another hour with the audience’s approval.

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“Unchained Melody continues at Quality Hill Playhouse through April 9. The show is guaranteed to please a wide audience range. Young and mature alike will enjoy the music, the performances, and the selections. The show will build and sold out performances might occur. This will one of the all-time favorites. Don’t miss out. This is one solid, fast-paced show for everyone.

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Tags: Performing Arts, Quality Hill Playhouse, Music, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, “Unchained Melody”

Images courtesy of Larry Levenson & Quality Hill Playhouse, Larry Levenson and Quality Hill Playhouse and Bob Evans | KC Applauds

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