REVIEW: “A Grand Night for Singing” — Inland Valley Repertory Theatre

Updated: Mar 25

Gushing with Love and Sweeping the Audience Along on a Stream of Beautiful Voices

Considered by music historians to be the greatest musical theatre writing team of the 20th century, Rodgers and Hammerstein produced a sizable number of Broadway shows and musicals during the Golden Age of Broadway. This includes five of the most popular milestone hit musicals that's ever graced a Broadway stage: “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” and “The Sound of Music.”


There was also a very successful 1957 television production of “Cinderella,” their only collective effort written for television, which starred Julie Andrews, who won an Emmy Award for her performance in that title.


However, the title “A Grand Night for Singing” comes from one of the renowned songs in the dynamic duo’s 1945 feature film “State Fair.” Not surprisingly, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s productions garnered numerous accolades, including a total of thirty-four Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize.


INLAND VALLEY REPERTORY THEATRE now presents this production, performing through March 9th, at Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont. In this final show from the grand theater dining hall at Candlelight before they close their doors, the production is in the capable direction of Frank Minano, capably assisted by Hope Kaufman and musically directed by Ronda Rubio, combining their talents symbiotically to lead a cast of seven superb performers through a nonstop compendium of sensational music, dance, and comedy. The show is presented formally, with the performers decked out in attractive formal wear and cocktail wear as appropriate to each song.


The Company of "A Grand Night for Singing"

With 35 songs (some, composite numbers), “Grand Night” covers every Rodgers & Hammerstein joint alliance from “Oklahoma!” in 1943 to “The Sound of Music” 16 years later. The theme is romance (skipping the duo’s less amorous tunes and aiming straight for the heart), the mood is upbeat, and the septet of singers — four women and three men fluidly deployed by Director Minano — is elegant, consummate and pleasing in both the solos and various combinations.


The ultra-talented company consists of Kristen Hamilton (“An Evening of Opera”), with her lovely and confident voice; Chelsea Johnson (“Voire Dire”) who is the epitome of a powerful female with a singing voice to match; Patrick McMahon (“Jekyll & Hyde”) with his deep, rich voice and impeccable vocal dynamics; Jamie Snyder (“The Producers”), also a strong baritone who has performed at Carnegie Hall; Melissa Smith (“Mary Poppins”) whose vibrant sounds ring true and seems to feel every note; Dani Bustamante (“Big Fish”) with not only powerhouse pipes but a remarkable flair for comedy; and Sandra Ochoa Rice (“Damn Yankees”) with her pure, sweet soprano voice and impressive acting ability.


Kristen Hamilton, Jaime Snyder, Sandra Ochoa Rice, Patrick McMahon, Melissa Smith, Dani Bustamante, Chelsea Johnson

Over three decades after the duo's final collaboration, “The Sound of Music,” took the Great White Way by storm, it was in fact this new R&H musical that opened the 1994 Broadway season with flair and distinction, garnering wildly enthusiastic notices as well as earning two Tony nominations, including Best Musical. It’s been said that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s songs are like snowflakes—no two are alike. This infinite variety requires tremendous talent and versatility and the IVRT cast and crew are never sounding better and clearly up to that task.


Patrick McMahon and Sandra Ochoa Rice

But R&H’s founding fathers probably never imagined Dani and Sandra’s “Shall We Dance?” from “The King and I” as a comic pas de deux for a towering beauty and her awkward admirer, nor did they suspect that one day a lovelorn young lad (again, Dani) might pose the musical question, “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?”


But that's precisely the kind of invention lavished upon this new revue, with innovative musical arrangements, including a sultry Andrews Sisters-esque “I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair” by Kristen, Sandra, Chelsea and Melissa; Sandra’s down-home “I Cain’t Say No,” from “Oklahoma!,” a swingin' “Honey Bun” worthy of the Modernaires, and a jazzy “Kansas City” which takes on new meaning in our modern age of plastic surgery (“She proved that everything she had was absolutely real” —prompting a sarcastic “Right!” from the men).


From the opening medley, the cast blends movement, dance, comedy, and profound emotions into the R & H songbook giving the revue a smart, creative flare. We see the girls and the boys playfully flirting with songs like “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” (“Oklahoma!”) to the quartet of girls eagerly envisioning their future of starting a family in “When the Children are Asleep.”


Dani Bustamante and Jaime Snyder

Patrick and Jamie soar with “All at Once You Love Her” ("Pipe Dream"); Melissa nails “If I Loved You” ("Carousel"); and while Chelsea wonderfully sings “The King and I’s” “Something Wonderful,” Kristen is profound in “Love Look Away;” (“Flower Drum Song”) and Sandra comically sings “The Gentleman Is A Dope” (“Allegro”). At the top of the second act, Jamie’s baritone resounds in a seemingly effortless version of “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’;” earlier we see a delightfully lovely Chelsea as she declares she’s in love with “A Wonderful Guy.”


Other memorable moments include the men trying to talk the women out of matrimony on "Don't Marry Me," the funny rhapsody from "Flower Drum Song" (the women aren’t buying it), and Patrick’s praiseworthy “This Nearly Was Mine,” again from “South Pacific.” Postscripting that is the entire cast singing the intoxicating “Some Enchanted Evening” — pointing up the song’s haunting, final notes — with their voices fluttering in the air like the sounds of fading angels, leaving no question about how terrifically up to date the remarkable songs of R&H remain.


Chelsea Johnson, Kristen Hamilton, Sandra Ochoa Rice & Melissa Smith

Given the show’s stylishly lighted shiny-metal art deco setting, this elegant evening is not only a listening pleasure but a beautiful feast for the eyes too. And, to complement this one-of-a-kind theatrical exposition even further, Michael Gibson and Jonathan Tunick’s lively orchestrations are performed by a six-member chamber orchestra, rendering some of the best musical theater songs ever executed.


Melissa Smith

In fact, this IVRT show practically gushes with love and sweeps the audience along on a stream of beautiful voices, warm humor and energetic dancing amid decades of beloved songs from your favorite Broadway musicals. Here, Director Minano and Music Director Rubio puts the emphasis mostly on the singing, resulting in emotional, spine-tingling vocals from performers that really know their way around a Broadway song.


As the entire company performs the thrilling and emotional finale, “I Have Dreamed” from “The King and I,” their rich, dramatic harmonies and stunning individual performances close the show gracefully, and demonstrate that this production is truly “A Grand Night for Singing!”


IVRT’s Frank Minano dedicated this, their 49th Candlelight production, to the Bollinger Family, in homage to giving them a home for the past 15 years. As Candlelight Pavilion closes its doors after 37 years of fine dining and magnificent theater in Claremont, IVRT courageously continues on with their season as they proudly launch their new IVRT Supper Club, featuring the upcoming family comedy, “Our Lady of the Tortilla,” the comedy/drama, “I’m Not Rappaport,” a charming Sondheim Musical, “Marry Me a Little,” and another comedy about family and friendship, entitled “The Jewtalian.”


Kristen Hamilton

In addition, arrangements have been concluded to share the stage with two other nearby arts partners, the San Bernardino Symphony and Cabrillo Playhouse. We are looking forward to seeing IVRT at these newest collaborative venues.


As Director Minano so succinctly puts it, “People ask about the future of IVRT and Candlelight, and I am reminded of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, “Stop worrying where you’re going, move on. If you can know where you’re going, you’ve gone. Just keep moving on.”


INLAND VALLEY REPERTORY THEATRE proudly presents RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING, now performing from March 1st through March 9th at Candlelight Pavilion, Claremont. Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; Musical Arrangement by Fred Wells; Concept by Walter Bobbie; Orchestration by Michael Gibson and Jonathan Tunick.


Chelsea Johnson

WITH: Dani Bustamante, Kristen Hamilton, Chelsea Johnson, Patrick McMahon, Sandra Ochoa Rice, Melissa Smith and Jamie Snyder.

CREATIVE: Director Frank Minano; Musical Director, Conductor and Accompaniment by Ronda Rubio; Assistant Director Hope Kaufman; Choreographer Sandra Ochoa Rice; Stage Manager Emily Moussa; Stage Crew Mark Mackenzie, Steve Siegel; Promotional Videographer Spencer Weitzel; Men’s Tuxedos by Carducci Tuxedo. Honorary Producers are Gloria Slosberg and Ed Babcock.


MUSICIANS: Ronda Rubio (Keyboards); David Catalan (Reed); Carlos Rivera (Bass); Brad Vaughn (Percussion); Kevin Mills (Cellist); Celia Chan Valerio (Harp).


Performance Date and Time: Performances are on March 1, 2, 8 at 7:30 p.m. and March 9th at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $40 plus a $3 processing fee and can be purchased by phone Monday through Thursday from 10am until 1pm at (909) 859-4878, or online 24/7 at www.ivrt.org. Season membership, with special events, are also available.


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


Photo Credits: DawnEllen Ferry