For many people -- Perhaps too many--Rodgers and Hammerstein are not merely giants of the American musical theatre, they define it. "Some Enchanted Evening," which opened last night at the Terrace Theatre, is a sampler of 45 of the better known songs written during their 17-year partnership, and reminds us that even a plateful of corn is often a tasty dish.
"Even a cliche' has a right to be true," Richard Rodgers once said, and he knew whereof he spoke. His music and Oscar Hammerstein's words came from a uniquely American sensibility; whether the fictional locale was Oklahoma or Siam, New England or the South Pacific, the people sang of optimism, love, beautiful mornings and enchanted evenings. Women were dames (there's nothin' like 'em) or girls (who sit around with pounds of cream on their faces), and men were strong and brave (wonderful guys), if occasionally dumb (but you have to be patient with them--they may not always say what you would have them say . . .)
One of the great virtues of R&H songs is that they are totally accessible. They may have been the inspiration for the proverbial expectation that a good show should send you out of the theater humming. The words are simple and, in the context of the show they were written for, carry the plot forward.
This revue is also simple, rarely venturing beyond a straightforward presentation of the material. Two of the duo's lesser known shows, "Me and Juliet" and "Pipe Dreams," are left out in favor of selections from the more familiar hits, which is a pity. Aside from a clever juxtaposition of two sentimental songs about marriage ("An Ordinary Couple" from "The Sound of Music" and "When the Children Are Asleep" from "Carousel") with the more acerbic "Don't Marry Me" from "Flower Drum Song," there is little effort to shape the material into anything other than a variety show format.
The players are all adept and expert, if cast according to type. Linda Michele is the prim blond soprano, Kim Criswell the lusty belter, and Ernestine Jackson the sophisticated exotic--and she does a superb job with "Something Wonderful." Don Stewart is the square-jawed John Raitt-leading man (an excellent "Soliloquy" from him) and Russ Thacker the open-faced juvenile (a nice job with "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?").
The show originally was produced for a nightclub in New York, and at one point, perhaps in an effort to capture the intimacy of such places the performers--oh no, are they really coming off the stage and into the audience? Is that a microphone they're sticking in that lady's face, trying to make her sing? Help! That's one trick I wish they'd said no to.
"Some Enchanted Evening," produced by Jerry Kravat, songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, directed by Jeffrey B. Moss, choreography by Barbara Simon Strouse, Musical direction by Phil Hall. Pianists: Glen Kelly and Larry Hill. At the Terrace Theater through June 25.