Rodgers & Hammersteinʼs A Grand Night for Singing
Orchestration by Michael Gibson & Jonathan Tunick
There’s something to be said for the classics – they’re called that for a reason. Walter Bobbie’s musical revue is as unforgettable as the iconic numbers of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Now, you don’t necessarily have to be a fan, but it certainly helps. The initial neck-break introduction to musical theatre’s hall of fame, or vomitorium for some, will separate the lovers from the loathers.
But after a year off, this jovial jaunt is the energetic comfort audiences need to re-set their festival senses. In a new staging by Kim Criswell, the sepia-tinted glitz of A Grand Night for Singing comes crashing headfirst and wide-eyed into the contemporary dazzles of the Edinburgh International Festival’s outdoor venue. From Carousel to The King and I, featuring impressive performances, it’s safe to say A Grand Night for Singing should feature a fair few of your favourite things.
But this is musical theatre land – what’s the use of the musical aspect, without the theatrical? The performance element mostly stands toe-to-toe with the vocal capabilities (which range from impressive to misplaced), merging with the orchestral band with ease. Playful, spirited, it is at its best when incorporating personal flourishes and touches from individual performers as they attempt to forge a sense of character amidst Bobbie’s contrite narrative.
Limiting the use of projection and lighting the design work is complimentary of band and vocalists. Frequent costume changes signal a palette cleanse with the lighting, set underneath a projected night sky. Perhaps too frequent, as Richard Morrison finds himself still buttoning a shirt or losing a dog-collar mid-opener.
Schmaltzy is one thing – sickeningly sweet is another. As the industry unearths itself from the lost year, a safety net of tried and tested productions has its reliable bets, but perhaps safety isn’t what we need right now. Innovation, challenging and inclusive, diverse musical pieces are what we need, but for some, the comfort and sentiments of the old ways will never lose their tinted charm.