Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Quality Hill "On the Sunny Side of the Street" review by kellyluck
On the Sunny Side of the Street
Quality Hill Playhouse
"Intimate" is a good word for the Quality Hill Playhouse. As soon as this reviewer entered the space, it felt less like a theatrical performance and more like the performers were having a few friends over for a musical evening. You wouldn't manage "Phantom" in a space like this, but for the cabarets and musical revues that make up the bulk of QHP's repertoire it is ideal. One feels less an audience member and more a treasured guest, and that feeling stays with one throughout the performance.
As part of their ongoing series of American music in the 20th century, J Kent Barnhart and company have selected popular favorites over an era covering from roughly the depression to just before World War II. In that time, the escapism of first the stage then the cinema flourished, and with it the careers of many perennial American greats, mostly notably Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers. The latter alone cover over a third of the two dozen or so songs performed here. There are also the works of Irving Berlin, Fats Waller and E.Y. Harburg. Barnhart at the piano is joined by bass player Brian Wilson and drummer Julian Goff as they accompany Julie O'Rourke Kaul, Kathryn Long, and Ken Remmert. Each of the vocalists gets a chance to shine, and in fine voice they do, but they are truly at their best when all voices are singing in truly excellent harmony.
At the center of things, Barnhart is the core of the performance, and its greatest strength. Seated at his piano, he guides us through the years, introducing each cluster of songs with plenty of social and historical background delivered with aplomb and absolutely delicious wit. Barnhart is a treasury of knowledge about the era and the music that shaped it, and his comments are easily one of the highlights of the evening. One suspects one could sit and listen to him for hours.
This reviewer suspects there are very few persons her age who share her fondness for the music of this era: indeed, I was positively one of the younger persons present. But I enjoyed the show thoroughly from beginning to end. A couple of highlights: Act I closed with a juxtaposition of sorts on two of Harburg's best known works: the fantasy anthem "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" blending into the all too real "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?". An unexpected bit of poignancy, there. Later, a performance of "Lydia The Tattooed Lady" brought down the house. For this long-time Marx Brothers fan, it was a welcome and gratifying surprise.
As I walked out into the just-cooling Kansas City night, I could still hear the songs in my head. Quality Hill Playhouse is a prime example that a performance does not have to be elaborate to be memorable. It just has to be well done.