42nd Street Moon’s ‘A Grand Night for Singing’ is imaginative, innovative

Photo of Grand Night
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“A Grand Night for Singing” had a simple concept. The musical revue showcased both famous and lesser-known works of theater legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, whose works include “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music” and “Oklahoma!” The revue lacked a unifying central story, but director and local theater veteran Cindy Goldfield saw this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle; each song opened up a door into a new relatable world, scenario or experience, and excellent choreography by Goldfield effortlessly sparked imagination and joy.

42nd Street Moon’s production of “A Grand Night for Singing” took place on a beautiful but simple set. Streams of chiffon and string lights were draped from the ceiling, hanging above a set consisting of little more than a few chairs on each side of the stage. Near the back of the set, two hanging screens projected a series of complementary photographs for each song — the keystone of Goldfield’s creative genius.

Alison Ewing, Edu González, Jacqueline De Muro, Jasmine Cook, Joel Chapman and Keith Pinto traversed the stage in elegant and varied ensembles of gray; like the modest set, the actors were blank slates for storytelling. With distinctive, powerful voices and radiant personalities, the cast was perfectly suited for “A Grand Night for Singing” — each actor played several roles in the musical’s many vignettes, but more prevalent throughout was each performer’s individuality.

Unlike many other theater productions, “A Grand Night for Singing” didn’t want audiences to forget that they were witnessing six performers putting on a show, and this decision to keep the actors from fading into the musical’s world created a very intimate, cohesive feel. The stories told were transportative, but the audience never forgot about the performers behind each character. Viewers were encouraged to witness, as well as share in, the actors’ excitement to be onstage, making for a unique theater-going experience.

Several numbers see all six actors performing together, while others utilize a smaller subset of the cast. Notably, the actors stayed onstage for all numbers, sitting on either side of the stage and becoming both a performer and an audience member when awaiting their turn. This allowed a state of mutual admiration onstage to naturally emerge — at every moment of the production, audience members could tell that the cast took pride in their work.

Particularly outstanding numbers included high-energy “Kansas City” (“Oklahoma!”), sassy “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” (“South Pacific”) and a playful interpretation of “Shall We Dance?” (“The King and I”). Goldfield cleverly used both choreography and thoughtful accompanying images to offer new and modern twists on these songs, making decades-old lyrics just as relevant and relatable today. For example, timeless tunes about romance are reimagined in the context of 21st-century online dating, depicting relationships in a refreshing and incredibly inclusive way.

In an interview with The Daily Californian, Goldfield explained that her inspiration for pairing each number with images came to her when flipping through a photo album. On stage, the two screens transformed into some of her greatest and most versatile tools; the images not only made the songs more timely, but also helped audiences visually engage with each number.

Using a nearly limitless visual element to complement the musical’s simplicity was a brilliant decision; the audience could see themselves included in the meanings behind each song, or were reminded of flipping through an album of their own memories. The photographs in “A Grand Night for Singing” expanded the show’s scope to represent experiences in the world beyond the walls of the Gateway Theater.

Conceived by an ambitious, inspired creative team and brought to fruition by talent onstage and off, 42nd Street Moon’s “A Grand Night for Singing” lived up to its name by presenting delightfully immersive amusement.

Joy Diamond covers theater. Contact her at [email protected].