Rodgers and Hammerstein showed a curiosity about cultures different from theirs, and this interest was evident in the Chatham Drama Guild’s freshly retooled production of “Rodgers and Hammerstein in Chatham.” The revue originally opened in May and returned Sept. 29 and will run for the weekends of Oct. 7 and 14. While the show took the audience to such faraway places as Thailand and China, it also provided an evening of coziness and familiarity.
The Drama Guild’s show drew from different musicals that demonstrated Rodgers and Hammerstein’s embrace of different ways of life: “Showboat,” written in 1927 when Jim Crow rule was in effect, depicted the struggles of black Americans; “South Pacific” addressed racial tensions on a South Pacific island; “The King and I” took place in Siam, now called Thailand; “Flower Drum Song,” though problematic because of its racial stereotypes, told the tale of Chinese immigrants reluctant to assimilate; even “Oklahoma” educated its New York audiences about a very different part of America.
Pam Banas, who conceived of the revue along with Jeff Spencer, added a few new songs to the production. The ensemble lost baritone Allan Brooks, but his solos were claimed by newcomer Donald Howell, who sang “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” and Scott Hamilton, a member of the original group, who covered “Ol’ Man River.” No one would know these hadn’t been their solos all along, their delivery was that authoritative and expressive.
The show moved chronologically through the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook by offering a few songs from “Oklahoma,” “Showboat,” “Carousel,” “State Fair,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” “Cinderella,” “Flower Drum Song,” and “The Sound of Music.” The one musical out of chronological order, “Showboat,” was written in 1927, while the others were written in the 1940s and '50s. Garry Mitchell, in the role of Oscar Hammerstein, offered a running commentary about the composers, their inspirations, and the vagaries of producing musicals.
The eight singers’ enjoyment of the songs was contagious. Dawn and Eric Spitz’s two duets (“When the Children are Asleep” and “We Kiss in the Shadow”) were infused with humor in one case and furtive passion in the other. Throughout the evening Kathy Hamilton’s movement on stage bore witness to a dancer’s training, especially while she and husband Scott Hamilton danced to “A Grand Night for Singing.” Scott Hamilton’s rich voice was well suited to “Ol’ Man River” and “Some Enchanted Evening.” Howell gave poignancy to the lyrics of “If I Loved You” and “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” Whether the principal or a supporting player, each was fully focused on his or her part.
Skilled in her primary roles, Banas, in particular, was also an exceptional supporting actor. Clarity and sweetness pervaded Delane Moser’s “It Might as Well Be Spring” and “In My Own Little Corner.” Joseph Theroux was an anchor in the ensemble pieces and employed fantastic enunciation and timing as he led “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame.” Indispensable in her role as musical director and accompanist, Geraldine Boles noted during intermission that the Drama Guild is an unusually welcoming company, and “they appreciate musicians.”
The pacing of the numbers was apt, with a mixture of energetic ensemble pieces and touching love songs. The show opened with a rousing rendition of “Oklahoma,” and the ensemble brought a joy and energy to this first number that was sustained throughout the show The players invited the audience to sing along with“Edelweiss” and “Climb Every Mountain,” and then it seemed like the ensemble couldn’t help breaking into “Oklahoma” once more. This song, with its cheerfulness and hopefulness, served to
“Rodgers and Hammerstein in Chatham”
At The Chatham Drama Guild
Through Oct. 15
Information and reservations: 508-945-0510