REVIEW: "Rodgers & Hammerstein In Concert"—Rose Center Theater Outdoors

Updated: Oct 17

Oh, What a Beautiful Show!


It’s a grand night for singing! It’s also a tribute to one of the most revered and prolific song writing teams in Broadway history, as RCT Musical Theater Concert Series presents “Rodgers & Hammerstein in Concert,” paying homage to some of the world's best-loved musicals that have defined musical theater. And who could do it better than the Rose Center Theater Outdoor singers?


Featuring selections from seven of their most iconic shows, including the breezy comedy, "Oklahoma!," "South Pacific," "The King and I," “Flower Drum Song,” “Cinderella,” “Carousel” and "The Sound of Music," Director and Music Director Tim Nelson entertains and enlightens with another masterpiece musical salute, performed by the familiar Rose Center Theater Outdoors resident troupe—luminaries all! Turning the spotlight on some of Southern California’s finest talents in a total cast of 20 (many recurring in their role from a past performance), the concept revue includes solos, duets and ensembles in a healthy mix of by-the-book classics that play beautiful deference to the originals—a truly enchanted evening for audiences of all ages.


Headlining the event are Vincent Aniceto, Tawni Bridenball, Stephanie Bull, Chris Caputo, Melissa Cook, Kristen Daniels, Kristin Henry, Rylie Herbel, Johnny Fletcher, Alexis Karol, Mary Murphy-Nelson, Ryan Salazar, Trevin Stephenson, and the Rose Kids—Olivia Aniceto, Sofia Aniceto, Taven Blanke, Collin Higgins, Zariah Merrill, Adrienne Morrow and Aly West. All are dapper and classy in basic black attire or evening dress, perfect accents to their strong, expressive voices.


Among the 26 tunes that the production touches on are Oklahoma’s “I Can’t Say No” with Stephanie Bull’s waggishly engaging rendition; “Lord & Master” from “The King and I,” performed by rising star ingénue, Olivia Aniceto; and the hilariously campy “Stepsister’s Lament,” once again with the team of Stephanie Bull and Trevin Stephensen, reprising their onstage inventiveness – a memorable favorite.


A love thread naturally runs through many of the songs: Love triangles. Love found. Love lost. Love denied, and the singers play to it to the hilt. Starting with “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'” and “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” Johnny Fletcher, Mary Murphy-Nelson and Melissa Cook set a tone of playfulness. Mr. Fletcher, who has performed as Curly in previous “Oklahoma!” productions, has a rich, dynamic quality, hitting notes with exquisite precision. His entrance into the show, along with his charisma and acting chops is a huge standout! And Ms. Cook sets the stage for romance with the prerequisite resistance and flirtatious gestures that keeps it buoyed with good fun.


In contrast, the breathtaking 1945 “Carousel” is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most majestic and complex musical. Unlike most musicals of the time-period, this unyielding piece was unafraid to tackle the realities of abusive relationships and contains riveting drama, compelling character development, and gorgeous, emotionally-charged music.


R&H created a masterpiece with "Carousel," both its story (adapted from Ferenc Molnar’s “Liliom”) and its score, which brings to light the expression of love and tenderness by the character Carrie with the song, “Mr. Snow,” in a vividly imagined dream of her wedding day (here performed sweetly by the silken-voiced Kristen Daniels), as well as the beguiling and awkwardly reticent, “If I Loved You,” expressed through the stately, transcendent Melissa Cook. But it was the tour-de-force monologue of internal conflict, “Soliloquy,” majestically performed by Chris Caputo, along with the stalwartly hopeful, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from the vocally luxuriant Mary Murphy-Nelson, that compelled the audience to slowly swell with emotion.


These indelible selections of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein have become standards in American music culture. Their music is in the air every day of our lives, having created some of the most instantly recognizable and most beautiful melodies in the history of the American musical. Such standards as "Manhattan," "With a Song in My Heart," "Isn't It Romantic?," "My Funny Valentine," "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "Shall We Dance?," and "The Sound of Music" do not even begin to suggest the number of enduring songs they’ve created, considering their immeasurable contribution to television, radio, records, and film as well.


Rodgers and Hammerstein first came together in 1943 to create one of the most well-known and widely performed musicals of the 20th century—Oklahoma! That collaboration infused Rodgers’ musical comedy with Hammerstein’s operatic background, leading to more than 40 shows and film scores over the “golden age” of musical theatre, captivating audiences worldwide with shows like “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” and “The King and I.”


Arguably, the duo’s most successful project by far was the 1965 production of “The Sound of Music,” which won the 1965 Oscar for Best Picture and remains one of the most popular musical films of all time. Their musicals were unique, in that they dealt with relatable subjects and struggles that people could identify with, crafted into a plot that many times revolves around something else entirely. Most early Broadway shows provided a fluffy evening, with wonderful songs, but not a whole lot of connection. But the genius of Rodgers & Hammerstein brought about a revolution that changed the road map entirely, dealing with serious topics and the most-glorious scores that go right to the heart.


All told, the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein earned 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammy Awards. No creative duo since then has come close to this incredible level of achievement.


That is one reason these scores will never fade away. Actually, it was in the program’s transition to “The King and I” this past Wednesday evening (which touts the largest canon), that brought a mature tenderness to listener’s ears. Beginning with “Whistle a Happy Tune” and “Getting to Know You,” Ms. Cook teamed up charmingly with young Taven Blanke and then the remainder of the Rose Kids on the latter, followed by a dance with the king, Vincent Aniceto, on the popular “Shall We Dance?” “I Have Dreamed,” another treasure, featuring the wonderful Ryan Salazar, gives a performance imbued with astounding sincerity, and one truly remarkable as the air rang with his clean, clear tenor. But the score is distinctly the most lush with the grand, “Something Wonderful,” as Kristin Henry effectuates a perfect vocal delivery as she contemplates her love dilemma: “This is a man who thinks with his heart…This is a man who stumbles and falls.”


Then there’s Kristen Daniels. Her bouncy spirit on “I Enjoy Being a Girl” and that charming wiggle in her hips when she cocks her head with perfect comedic timing resulted in a perpetual flutter in my chest as my heart just danced. But the effortless way she floats to her notes and delicately sustain any note seemingly forever can’t be overstated and had me in awe. Definitely a female female.


“Cinderella” was initially written to be a live-television musical so it is not easy to judge it for the stage. But when it did finally arrive to the Great White Way, the result was magical, and fortunately Rodgers and Hammerstein provided plenty of glitter and stardust with a score that includes “In My Own Little Corner,” beautifully sung here by recurring Cinderella, Tawni Bridenball, a star in her own right.


Following that was “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” which combines the talents of Mr. Salazar and Ms. Bridenball, expressing internally love’s many unanswered quandaries. And then, the wickedly funny “Lovely Night,” skillfully portrayed Ms. Bridenball, Ms. Murphy-Nelson as Madame, the self-serving and jaded stepmother, along with “stepdaughters,” Ms. Bull and Mr. Stephensen, providing sharp comedic timing along with a layer of humanity that's often overlooked in previous incarnations.

In “South Pacific,” Mr. Fletcher shines once again with the always popular, “Younger Than Springtime;” next Rylie Herbel, as Nurse Nellie, reassures her beau, Emile, in a lovely song that all will turn out fine in “Cock-Eyed Optimist.” Baritone juggernaut Mr. Caputo then adopts a faraway look to sing the richly prolific, “Some Enchanted Evening,” while conjuring chills mixed with sonorous tones that were held to the very last bar. And the final upbeat, comedy relief selection of this segment, “Nothin’ Like a Dame,” sung by a group of love hungry sailors stranded on a desert island during the Second World War (Mr. Aniceto, Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Stephensen and Mr. Salazar), leaves us all with smiles on our face.


“The Sound of Music” musical is full of glorious tunes, from the rousing “My Favorite Things” to the moving “Edelweiss.” But Director Nelson chose the theme song, “The Sound of Music,” and the clever “Do, Re, Mi” for their simple, powerful lyrics and gorgeous melody. Alexis Karol headlines these selections with an equally gorgeous voice, carrying us to that high Austrian hill and daring us to sing along in a performance that was nothing short of electric.


This was immediately accompanied by the remarkable Rose Kids who get to steal the show: Olivia Aniceto, Collin Higgins, Sofia Aniceto, Aly West, Taven Blanke, Adrienne Morrow and Zariah Merrill. Following that is the father-daughter adaptation of the very popular “16 Going On Seventeen,” with Vincent Aniceto and Olivia Aniceto setting the stage ablaze with their more modern version of the classic, segueing finally into a company delivery of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” led by the brilliant Mary Murphy-Nelson.


From Oklahoma, to the South Pacific to the Austrian Alps and beyond, the names Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein are synonymous with the best in American Musical Theatre. We hope you'll join us as Rose Center Theater offers a musical tribute to these two men, featuring some of the most popular songs to ever grace the stage. Whether you enjoy up tempo whimsical songs, romantic waltzes or sentimental ballads, you'll find them in this production—as only the masters could write them—as only the Rose Center Outdoor Singers can sing them!


The concert will continue with tonight’s performance at 7:30 pm. Although, the show has just recently sold out, please watch for any release on tickets on the RCT website: https://www.rosecentertheater.com/


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report

 © 2020 by KDaniels 

Chris Daniels, Arts Reviewer

The Show Report