OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals saluted with new Chicago stage show run

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-01-19T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals saluted with new Chicago stage show runBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

A parade of musicals are paid homage to in a new production opening in Chicago that should feel like a "welcomed old and entertaining friend" for audiences.

The Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, begins its highly anticipated 2013 season with the exhilarating Broadway musical revue called "A Grand Night for Singing."

It opens this weekend, on Sunday, Jan. 20 and runs through March 10.

The Tony Award-nominated musical showcases Richard Rodgers' timeless music and the incomparable lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein. The show is directed and choreographed by multiple Jeff Award winner Kevin Bellie, who previously served as artistic director at Circle Theatre.

"A Grand Night for Singing" features more than 30 songs from beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals such as "Carousel," "Oklahoma!," "The King and I," "South Pacific," "Cinderella" and "The Sound of Music," as well as lesser-known works such as "Allegro," "Me and Juliet," "State Fair," "Pipe Dream," and "Flower Drum Song."

I'm told it's a "romantic songfest" that is "a musical journey from young infatuation to the touching and funny complexities of commitment and marriage, the joys of parenthood, and the power of enduring love."

From "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' " to "Some Enchanted Evening," I'm told signature Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are placed in new contexts in a way that celebrates the colossal appeal of their legendary songbook.

"A Grand Night for Singing" was originally presented cabaret-style at Rainbow & Stars at the top of Rockefeller Center. The Broadway production, directed by Walter Bobbie, opened in 1993 and was nominated for two 1994 Tony Awards, for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revue.

The production stars Marya Grandy as "Victoria," following her time in "Les Misérables" on Broadway and the Off-Broadway revival of Maltby & Shire's "Closer Than Ever;" Robert Hunt as "Martin" after he also appeared in "Les Misérables" on Broadway and "Jerry Springer, the Opera" at Carnegie Hall, and Leah Morrow as "Allison," who will be familiar to Chicago audiences after her time in "The Christmas Schooner" at The Mercury Theater. Rounding out the cast is Stephen Schellhardt as "Jason," following his National Tour of "Altar Boyz," "Meet Me in St. Louis" at Drury Lane Theatre and Ravinia Festival's "Most Happy Fella" and Heather Townsend as "Lynne," following her time in "Nine" and "Sunday in the Park with George" at Porchlight Music Theatre and "Orpheus Descending" at Shattered Globe.

Director/choreographer Bellie holds 5 Jeff Awards and 15 nominations, mostly for shows at Circle Theater where he recently concluded his long tenure as artistic director, and helmed productions such as "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "Can-Can," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Sweet Smell of Success," "Nine" and "Rags."

"A Grand Night for Singing" is backed by a live five-piece band under the musical direction of Eugene Dizon (a six-time Jeff Award winner), the scenic and lighting design is by Jason Epperson, costume design is by Katie-Sarah Phillips and sound design is by Mike Ross.

The Mercury Theater is an intimate jewel-box in the heart of the Southport Corridor, described as "a sophisticated neighborhood of restaurants and boutiques just steps from Wrigley Field." It adjoins two restaurants: Cullen's Bar and Grill and Deleece, which offer dining and libations before and after the show.

Under the leadership of Executive Director L. Walter Stearns, the Mercury is offering a season of musicals for the first time, making it, what it describes as, "the largest producer of musical theater in Chicago."

Up next, there will be productions of the musicals "Barnum" and "The Color Purple," along with the return engagement of Chicago's holiday musical "The Christmas Schooner."

Some notable past productions at the historic theater include "A Twist of Water," (which recently closed off-Broadway), "The Screwtape Letters" (now it its third year of a national tour),"The Irish and How They Got That Way" and "Over the Tavern."

The smash hit original production of "Freud's Last Session" ended a nine-month run in November 2012, and is now headed to Los Angeles.

Performances for "A Grand Night for Singing" are 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $25 to $59. Season Flex Passes are $80 for three shows and $100 for all four. Groups of 10 or more receive discounts of up to 50 percent. For tickets and information contact the Mercury Theater at (773) 325-1700 or mercurytheaterchicago.com.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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