Downey Civic Light Opera celebrates the songs of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the second offering of their 2009-10 season, Rodgers & Hart: A Celebration.

As she did with 2008’s Tintypes, director Marsha Moode has reconceived a small-cast musical revue into a big-stage, big-cast musical retrospective. With biographical information about the Rodgers & Hart oeuvre imparted between songs by the production’s five stars, Rodgers & Hart: A Celebration à la Marsha Moode may remind older audience members of those 1950s-70s TV specials (though minus commercials by Kraft Foods).

It’s also a Downey CLO family reunion, with favorite performers returning to sing and tell the story of the “other” Richard Rodgers partnership, the one that preceded Rodgers & Hammerstein.

Equity performers Joseph Culliton (My Fair Lady), Susan Dolan (Tintypes), and John Racca (Anything Goes) are joined by Charlotte Carpenter (Eliza in last October’s My Fair Lady) and Ann Peck McBride (take your pick out of the 18 previous DCLO productions she’s headlined).  Individually and in duets, the fivesome bring back musical memories of those great songs Rodgers & Hart wrote from the Roaring Twenties through the Depression-era Thirties.

Culliton gets “Easy To Remember,” “You Are Too Beautiful,” “Lover,” and “Spring Is Here.”  The sparkly Dolan entertains with “Little Girl Blue,” “It’s Got To Be Love,” “Johnny One Note,” “The Lady Is A Tramp,” and “I Could Write A Book.” Racca lends his golden pipes to “My Heart Stood Still,” “My Romance,” “Mimi,” “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” “She Could Shake The Maracas,” “Have You Met Miss Jones,” and “I Married An Angel.” Carpenter’s lovely soprano is featured in “Falling In Love With Love,” “With A Song In My Heart,” “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” and “My Funny Valentine,” but it’s her lower-register belt in “10 Cents A Dance” that makes for one of the evening’s nicest surprises. McBride sings a hilarious “To Keep My Love Alive” and a torchy “Bewitched, Bothered, And Bewildered.” Then there are the duets—Carpenter and Culliton in “Where Or When,” “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” and “He And She,” Dohan and Racca in “This Can’t Be Love,” Racca and McBride in “Everything I’ve Got” and “He And She,” Dohan and Culliton in “I’d Like To Recognize The Tune,” and Racca and Carpenter in “I’ve Got 5 Dollars.”

Some of the evening’s brightest performances come from its supporting cast of twenty-nine. Handsome young dancers Adam Huynh, Branden Lee Roth, and Russell Powell back up Dohan’s “Thou Swell.” My Fair Lady’s William Crisp, Glenn Edward, Michael McGreal, and Kit Wilson sing (in glorious four-part harmony) the “Blue Moon Sequence,” “Great Big Town,” and “A Ship Without A Sail.” Edward solos “You’re Nearer” and Wilson gets his own solo number with “Love Me Tonight.” Valerie Jasso, Julie Simpson, and Stacee Tweedlie perform “It Never Entered My Mind.”  Dancers Nicole Manly, Huynh, and Gabe Copeland are featured in “The Girl Friend.” Felipe Echerri sings “Here In My Arms,” a number which also features Susan Huckle and Frances Wulke. Jasso solos a gorgeous “Glad To Be Unhappy.” Lori Lewis is a saucy “Mimi.”  Tap dancer Copeland dazzles with his dancing feet in “Mountain Greenery.” The adorable Roth and Shannon Cudd duet “There’s A Small Hotel.”  Peter Schueller sings an excellent “Nobody’s Heart.”  Andrea Dodson and Jeffrey Ricca duet the lovely “Blue Room.” William James Jr. shows off maybe the evening’s finest male voice in “Dancing On The Ceiling.” Manly and Dodson provide fancy footwork in “You Mustn’t Kick It Around,” backed by Lisa Meert, Lewis, Adia Joelle, and Huckle.  Manly charms with “You Took Advantage Of Me.”   The male ensemble blend tenors and baritones in “Wait Till You See Her.”  The entire cast of thirty-four (completed by Barrett Hill, Jamie Hultgren, Courtney King, Shannon Martinous, Rachel O’Connell, and Dee Wilson) bookend the evening with the opening number “Where’s That Rainbow” and the Act Two closer “Manhattan,” with “Isn’t It Romantic?” in between.

Moode directs with her accustomed flair, and Brandee Williams’ choreography nicely complements the R&H tunes with some graceful and occasionally fancy footwork.  Musical direction is by Eddy Clement, technical direction by Gary Richardson, lighting design by Design Partners Inc., sound design by Jay Lee, and wigs designed by Sonia Silva.  All are first-rate. Elizabeth Bowen has supervised the dozens upon dozens upon dozens of costumes worn by the cast.

Rodgers & Hart: A Celebration provides two and a half hours of tuneful musical entertainment and memories.  Yes, Dorothy, there was musical theater before Sondheim, Schwartz, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Downey Theatre, 8435 E. Firestone Blvd. , Downey.

–Steven Stanley
February 19, 2010

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