By Bob Evans
Get ready for one of the best shows at Quality Hill Playhouse as J. Kent Barnhart continues his series on the Broadway history of musicals with his selections for 40s Songbook, a collection of Broadway music in the first act, followed by A.M. radio hits of the Big Band era.
“Join us for a sentimental journey through America’s songbook of the 1940s. A country battling the effects of war and its aftermath took solace in hundreds of songs of all types, from big band to romantic ballads to novelty songs, many of which are still standards today,” the Quality Hill website states.
“Broadway and All That Jazz,” this season’s theme looks at the American Songbook with hits from Broadway stages and the popular music of specific time periods. This particular show, “Songbook of the 40s” includes great selections performed from seasoned Quality Hill performers. The audience can’t miss with Samantha Agron, Lauren Braton, Sarah LaBarr, Robert Erik Sobbe, Kent Barnhart, Ken Remmert, Ben Tervort. With those names, audiences know, before the lights go up, that a spectacular show awaits.
For the Broadway portion of the show, such big shows as “Pal Joey (that introduced Gene Kelly to The Great White Way)” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Brigadoon,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Oklahoma!,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “ Carousel.” and the lesser known “Lady in the Dark,” were remembered. While the selections came from those shows, the arrangements did not, as Barnhart used his creative license to find more jazzy versions of the classic tunes and allow the overwhelming talents of his cast to create the stage magic.
The evening of the review, a sparse audience attended because of weather concerns and forecasted concerns. Still, those in attendance provided enthusiastic applause and appreciation for each number covered. The energy from the stage to the audience and from the audience to the performers was genuine and explosive. I would like to see the show again on a weekend and a capacity crowd to see if the energy could be even better.
Act I contained lots of memorable songs that even younger audiences would know and like. The more noted songs are “Another Op’nin’ Another Show,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” “Anything You Can Do,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” “Why Can’t You Behave?,” “ You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Lesser known numbers were “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from “Brigadoon,” and the very funny “The Saga of Jenny,” from Gertrude Lawrence’s “Lady in the Dark.”
With that cavalcade of Broadway songs, each of the vocalists showed their vocal prowess. Lauren Braton opened with a spectacular version of “Bewitched,” and later followed with a sexy, sultry “Why Can’t You Behave.” She brought the Wow factor to both selections. Samantha Agron got to display her comedic flair with “The Ballad of Jenny,” and then crooned a solo version of “People Will Say We’re in Love,” which gave her a chance to entertain with her beautiful soprano voice.
Not to be outdone, Sara LaBarr and Erik Sobbe teamed for the funny duet, “Anything You Can Do,” which just made the fast moving act more light-hearted and engaging. The two were funny and charming in this. As a second number, each got a chance to show a tender side with Sobbe displaying his tenor range for “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” and LaBarr singing a haunting “Look to the Rainbow.”
Act II radically changed from the Broadway sounds to that of the Big Band music of the early 1940s. How can you lose with the opening number being “Chattanooga Choo Choo”? Follow that with the Bing Crosby/Andrews Sisters’ hit “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” with Sobbe singing the Crosby part and the lady trio decked out in sparkles sang the Andrews Sisters part. What a great introduction to Act II and way to generate even more enthusiasm.
Sobbe, then disappeared for awhile as the three songstresses broke into a medley of Andrews Sisters songs, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Too Fat Polka,” “Pennsylvania Polka,” “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon,” “Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company ‘B’.” (They made me squirm when they broke into: “I don’t want him. You can have him. He’s too fat for me.”)
Sobbe’s return to the show allowed him the solo opportunity to croon a song that’s been released many times and by various artists. Sobbe’s voice really sounded strong yet tender throughout “I Don’t Want to Walk without You.”
After Sobbe’s solo, the focus switched to the Big Band sound so tied to the 1940s. Such standards as “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Route 66,” “In the Mood.” Unknown to 99% the next to the last number, “Down South Camp Meetin’,” raised the bar for future shows. The words, the harmonies, shifting melodies, the accompaniment–all stunned. The song was the most intricate I have heard in five years of reviewing. It was amazing.
While the vocalists get a lot of attention, Barnhart on piano, Ben Tervort on bass and Ken Remmert on percussion could not be topped. Barnhart had the 88s smoking during his boogie woogie numbers. Remmert always beats the skins with great expressions throughout each song. And, although young, the talented Tervort will raise new callouses by the end of this show with all the strumming on his bass. The trio is sharp, crisp and so talented. They add a lot to the show. Best of all, they all had individual break-out solos within some of the songs.
“Songbook of the 40s” continues at Quality Hill Playhouse through Feb. 17. For tickets, specific dates and times, check out the Quality Hill Playhouse website. www.qualityhillplayhouse.com
Tags: Quality Hill Playhouse, Songbook of the 40s, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment