Quality Hill Playhouse rocks the house with upbeat music

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Quality Hill Playhouse made huge strides this season as they undertook an educational and enlightening journey through Broadway history through the century and end with the current production of “Songbook of the 80s to Present.”

J. Kent Barnhart undertook the task of educating and entertaining his audiences with specific shows that highlighted the Broadway musicals and how they influenced the Jazz genre of sheet music, radio big bands, and records. The first acts of each show focused on Broadway of that era while the second act focused more on Jazz.

“Songbook of the 80s to Present” looked into the mega-hits of “Les Miz” “Phantom of the Opera” as well as some lesser known shows like “Titanic.” And, for the final show of the season, Barnhart called on big guns to deliver the goods. Vigthor Zophoniasson, Joe Carr, Lauren Braton, and Molliann McCulley. New to QHP, Molliann delivered the goods with her solo of “On My Own” from “Les Miz” and then the up-beat “Boy from New York City.”

This particular show created a different texture than previous shows in that all of the music was more current and represent songs that eventually will belong to the Great American Songbook. Yes, some of the music originated in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, but the shows have carved their way into Broadway history.

Vigthor Zophoniasson, presented a different take on the “Phantom of the Opera” standout “Music of the Night.” His delivery was dramatic and menacing as opposed to a love ballad of yearning and hope. The dark nature of the song received loud approval from the audience.

“Thanks to advancements in live production technologies, Broadway producers of the late 20th Century to today have been able to push the boundaries of set, light, and sound design further than ever before, enabling them to tell ever-expanding stories,” Barnhart said.

Lauren Braton, a staple for QHP put her range on exhibit with “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Heartful of Love” from “Les Miz” and then cut loose with the up-tempo Jazz style of “Operator.” It’s always fun to see artists present different types of music then performing at The Q. Joe Carr, has found his comfort zone with Quality Hill in that musical theatre music allows him to sing such a wide variety of music, and he excels with them all. New to the Q, Molliann McCully showed the tender delivery needed for the love themes in Act I and then cut loose in Act II on “Orange Colored Sky” and a dynamo rendition of “Boy from New York City.” As for Vigthor, the operatic big songs really fit his range. While he can sing anything, the big power solos command the most attention.

“Musicals like ‘Les Miserables’ (1987), the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (1988), ‘Titanic’ (1997), and ‘The Lion King’ (1997) featured lavish spectacles and epic plots. Our first act will feature song sets from these shows, including ‘The Music of the Night,’ ‘Think of Me,’ ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ ‘On My Own,’ and ‘The Circle of Life,’ plus songs from 1990’s ‘Assassins’ (‘Unworthy of Your Love’) and 1997’s Jekyll and Hyde (‘This Is the Moment’).”

On the Jazz scene, “Manhattan Transfer won accolades and audiences with contemporary versions of classic hits such as ‘The Boy From New York City,’ ‘Operator,’ and ‘Birdland,’ a vocalese homage to the great Charlie Parker,” Barnhart continued. “Similarly, New York Voices had successes in the last few decades with fresh arrangements of the 1946 jump blues song ‘Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens’ and the 1950 hit ‘Orange Colored Sky,’ originally made popular by Nat King Cole. Our second act of ‘All That Jazz’ features these songs plus modern takes on the Motown classic ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times, They Are A-Changin’,’ and more.”

Act II definitely marked a departure from many QHP shows in that the music was more up to date and far from Broadway roots. A song from Bob Dylan and a Motown hit are quite a contrast from Broadway melodies. Also, the Nat King Cole mega-hit, “Orange Colored Sky” marked a really fun opening to the second half.

Usually, J. Kent Barnhart just offers an occasional duet or a small part in some songs. For this show, the did a rare solo on “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.” And, the accompaniment of the other band members provided important as Ben Turvort on bass showed his bowing skills during the first act before his fingers took over as he picked that bass. And, on percussion, Ken Remmert always delivers a fun performance. Both had a couple of opportunities to give individual solos during the show.

All in all, this was one of the best shows of the season. It continues through July 14. For tickets, check out the Quality Hill Playhouse website.

Tags:  Quality Hill Playhouse, Songbook of the 80s to Present, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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