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

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

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