WINTER PARK — A beautifully designed stage welcomes five immensely gifted singers, who take us through an evening of songs by two of musical theater’s great talents, composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. The production, A Grand Night For Singing, is a reminder of what the Winter Park Playhouse does best: bringing together local talent who can make these classic songs soar, a cast that knows how to bring humor, passion and pure joy to their performances.
And frankly, it’s wonderful to have The Winter Park Playhouse back in business after a 10-month shutdown. While the Playhouse is operating differently in the social distancing age — more on that later — the quality of their productions hasn’t suffered one bit, and if you love Broadway songs, great music, or just the pleasure of seeing gifted singers demonstrate their talent, you’ll definitely want to see this show.
What is A Grand Night For Singing?
A Grand Night For Singing, a musical revue that pays tribute to the men who created such classic shows as Carousel, Oklahoma, The King And I, The Sound Of Music and so many more, is the highly enjoyable comeback for The Winter Park Playhouse, which like every other community theater in Central Florida had to close its doors in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the years, the Playhouse has specialized in bringing to Central Florida audiences musicals that have been performed successfully elsewhere, and have plenty to offer local audiences. This revue, conceived by Walter Bobbie, gets a first-rate production from the Playhouse, courtesy of the director and choreographer, Roy Alan, who keeps the cast members delightfully active throughout the show; this isn’t five singers standing motionless on stage, singing their numbers, but gifted singers and actors who become the characters in their songs.
And the cast couldn’t be better. Whether they’re singing together as an ensemble, performing as duos or doing solo numbers, they each stand out and have their highlights. Matt Rothenberg does an excellent solo version of the song “Maria” from The Sound Of Music, while Monica Titus, Courtney Cunningham and Caila L. Carter are in gorgeous harmony together in the South Pacific number “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair.” Dustin Cunningham does an absolutely spectacular and rousing version of the Oklahoma hit “Oh What A Beautiful Morning.”
It’s an irresistible night out because the talent at Playhouse (including music director Christopher Leavy who plays piano along with Sam Forrest on percussion and Ned Wilkinson on multiple instruments) fully captures what made those Rodgers & Hammerstein songs so popular to begin with.
What’s Changed At Winter Park Playhouse?
On my first trip back to The Winter Park Playhouse in nearly a year, a lot seemed the same, including the lobby where you can relax before the show or during intermission, the bar that sells drinks, and the familiar face of Leavy playing piano in the half hour before the curtain rise.s
And a lot definitely has changed.
The staff now wears masks, and so do the actors — although the Playhouse’s executive director Heather Alexander found some ingenious see-through masks that attach a few inches from the performer’s face, and are barely even noticeable. The audience is required to wear masks, and the Playhouse now seats only about 32 patrons per show, so nobody sits too close to their fellow patrons.
Those safety measures do nothing to detract from a highly enjoyable evening of live theater, and again, it’s so wonderful to have the entire Playhouse team back in action.
A Grand Night For Singing runs through Saturday, Feb. 20, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays and Saturday matinees shows at 2 p.m. and select Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Call the box office at 407-645-0145 to book tickets.
This production will also be offered virtually online for anyone who prefers to watch it from the comfort of their own home.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.