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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Actors Theatre of Indiana continues their 2017-18 season with A Grand Night for Singing, a musical revue celebrating the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue of songs from their wide range of Broadway shows. Conceived by Walter Bobbie, with musical arrangements by Fred Wells, Michael Gibson, and Jonathan Tunick, the production opened on Broadway in November of 1993 and was a modest success with 52 performances.

My research shows that the collection is most often presented in a cabaret style, featuring well-dressed cast members moving song to song with minimal connection. Director/choreographer Carol Worcel has crafted a colorful carnival setting and arranged with designer Stephen Hollenbeck to have her charges in a nifty array of  bright, mid-20th century costumes that more realistically covey the characters that Rodgers and Hammerstein were writing their songs for. It works tremendously well. A narrow story line of love and loss, happiness and dismay, and solos mixed with duets and ensemble work fills the show with a variety of interpretations. Ms. Worcel’s task of choreographing and/or staging 30+ musical numbers is well met with expert level results.

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From left: Don Farrell, Annalee Traeger, Cynthia Collins, Ian Black, and Nathalie Cruz provide the onstage performances for ATI’s “A Grand Night for Singing”.

All this is performed by ATI’s usual lineup of wonderfully talented performers. Don Farrell, hot off his amazing performances in La Cage aux Folles, supplies his customary magic on stage, in both song and dance. Joining him is his co-ATI founder, Cynthia Collins, who provides many of the comic moments in the production as well as a full range of soft and spunky song renditions.

Three ATI newcomers fill out the cast. Ian Black takes the other male role in the show. His strong baritone voice and remarkable dancing abilities makes him a valuable addition in this production and hopefully many others at ATI. Nathalie Cruz is a familiar face for those of us who have noted her many roles around Indy. Her musical talents are obvious here and Ms. Cruz provides her usual striking performance to the proceedings, especially with her sensitive “Do I Love You” in the first act.

Annalee Traeger is a bit of a breakthrough story, I believe. Theatre goers have seen her quite a lot at our local dinner theatre. She has been a member of more than a few dance corps there, with occasion small supporting roles. It is so good to see her front and center in this production. Ms. Traeger’s dancing abilities are no surprise. What we didn’t realize is that she possesses a beautiful solo voice. Her highlights include touching renditions of “If I Loved You” and “It Might as Well Be Spring”.

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From left: Nathalie Cruz, Annalee Traeger, and Ian Black all make their ATI debuts in “A Grand Night for Singing”.

The cast’s polished vocal performances show the hand of musical director Levi Burke, as does the impeccable work by his four piece orchestra. A delightfully vibrant set design by P. Bernard Killian, lights designed by Theresa Bagan and sound by Zach Rosing round off the technical contributions to this ATI offering.

Bottomline: This is a wonderfully relaxing and mild entertainment. The show is full of many interesting arrangements of familiar songs. The performances are strong throughout, and it is great to see the ATI debuts of three talented performers as well as portrayals by the more familiar Ms. Collins and Mr. Farrell.

A Grand Night for Singing continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through November 19th. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – photos by Zach Rosing

 

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