Mostly Rodgers & Hammerstein
In 2006, Michael Sterling and Associates brought more than a touch of class to the undernourished L.A. cabaret scene with the sublime supper club Sterling’s Upstairs at Vitello’s, located at the famous half-century old Studio City restaurant. Ceasing that arrangement earlier this year, Sterling moved to the Federal Bar and Restaurant in North Hollywood, bowing last April.
As evidenced by the recent one-night performance of " Mostly Rodgers and Hammerstein, With a Little Hart and Sondheim" at the new Sterling’s locale, this venerable impresario’s tradition for stellar musical entertainment coupled with delectable cuisine remains a local treasure.
This exuberant and tuneful revue was blessed with a knockout seven-member cast, writer-director-host Bruce Kimmel’s terrific no-frills presentation, and splendid music direction/piano accompaniment by Lloyd Cooper.
Kimmel is well known by musical-theater aficionados for his beloved show-tune label Kritzerland Records, which specializes in recordings of lesser-known music from Broadway, and occasionally from Hollywood. As this new revue zeroes in on classics created by songwriters or songwriting teams who are anything but obscure (Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, and a few by Stephen Sondheim), the bulk of the fare seemed familiar to the audience.
Any show that includes "Some Enchanted Evening" and "The Sound of Music" clearly offers plenty of opportunity for nostalgic revelry. Yet there were also more than a few songs here that clearly weren’t well known to some viewers, who were introduced to some buried treasure.
Kicking off the evening was a special treat introduced by the engaging Kimmel -- the screening of a brief episode from Kritzerland’s zany web series, "Outside of the Box," a spoof of musical theater. The sidesplitting segment features veteran actor singer-Hal Linden, playing a performer who is offered the title role in a stage musical based on "The Exorcist." Shades of "Carrie: The Musical!"
Arriving not long after the turgid misfired non-musical adaptation of this classic William Friedkin film that premiered at the Geffen Playhouse, this nutty send-up struck a perhaps unexpectedly resonant chord. The uproariously terrible lyrics and ludicrous conception for the fictional musical offered plenty of guffaws, and even something resembling pea-green soup. Kimmel’s web series is definitely worth checking out.
Yet the main entrée at the Sterling showcase, which also features a delectable menu of reasonably priced dinners, sandwiches and beverages, consists of songs performed to perfection by the prodigiously talented cast. The show kicked off with two sure-fire crowd pleasers: the soaring title song from the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "The Sound of Music" and the ebullient "I Have Confidence," which Richard Rodgers wrote especially for the film version.
These songs were offered by Shannon Warne, in the first of her bravura turns during the evening, spotlighting her resplendent soprano voice. Among other gems from the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon were the fanciful "Mr. Snow" from "Carousel," delivered with vigor and style by the likewise luxuriously talented Jane Noseworthy, who again scored in the lovely "My Lord and Master" from "The King and I."
Vivacious Lisa Livesay, enjoyed stellar turns, including gorgeous numbers from the Rodgers and Hammerstein TV musical "Cinderella" and a delicious medley from their "Flower Drum Song."
The male performers were no less magnificent, with special note due for the electrifying baritone voice of Stuart Ambrose, who delivered thrilling renditions of some of the most dynamic stories-in-song from Rodgers and Hammerstein. First, from "South Pacific," was a marvelous medley of "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine." He followed this later with the shattering "Soliloquy" from "Carousel."
Funny and charming Dennis Kyle, also a first-class vocalist, sparkled in the little-known "The Man I Used to Be" from "Pipe Dream" and "Don’t Marry Me" from "Flower Drum Song," as well as the irresistible Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart ditty "This Can’t Be Love" from "The Boys From Syracuse."
Another entertainment bonanza arrived with the introduction of renowned Broadway performer Alvin Ing, who appeared in the original casts of Sondheim’s "Pacific Overtures" and the revamped 2002 version of "Flower Drum Song." The gifted performer offered memorable songs from both shows.
Kimmel, who provided fascinating background information on many of the shows and songs throughout the evening, gave a fine rendition of the lilting "Love, Look Away" from "Flower Drum Song," which he admitted is his favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
Kimmel’s tidbits of choice information included a discussion of the unforgettable 2001 revival of "Do I Hear a Waltz?" (a Rodgers- Sondheim-collaboration) at the Pasadena Playhouse, which had been graced by the star turns of Alyson Reed and the great Carol Lawrence, under the consummate direction of David Lee.
The very special evening concluded with Warne delivering an electrifying medley of inspirational Rodgers and Hammerstein songs: "You’ll Never Walk Alone" and "Climb Every Mountain," which seemed especially resonant on the eve of one of the most crucial and contentious presidential elections in U.S. history.