The first show by Exeunt (Pursued by a Bear) Productions, A Grand Night For Singing is a revue showcasing the Golden-Age repertoire of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
First produced on Broadway in 1993, the show runs less as a book musical (for which Rodgers and Hammerstein were noted pioneers) and more as a series of montages exploring the myriad of ways love can be perceived or engaged with. In this Adelaide incarnation, 2021 Elder Conservatorium Music Theatre graduates John Mondelo, Georgia Broomhall, Katie Pasin, Nicole Rammesh, and Andrew Smith inhabit a wide variety of amorously-minded characters each across the two acts.
Presented in the University of Adelaide’s Little Theatre, the intimate setting lends to the themes explored, with a star-lit night background overlooking a piano (adeptly played by musical director Tim How), chaise longue and four stools; roses adorning various pieces of furniture. Director Erin James’ blocking also makes effective use of the venue, with the performers utilising all available passageways and effortlessly transitioning between solo, duet, and group numbers.
Each actor is well-cast, leaning into their strengths and complementing one another in the ensemble. Broomhall makes envy so palpable in ‘Stepsister’s Lament’, melding seamlessly into the nervous suitress in ‘Shall We Dance’, and caring grandparent in ‘I’ve Seen It Happen Before’.
Pasin’s delivery draws attention at each solo, whether as the aspirant girlfriend in ‘I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy’ or scorned subordinate in ‘The Gentleman is a Dope’. Similarly, Rammesh convinces us that she is the fun-loving girl who ‘…Can’t Say No’ in one breath, as much as she is apprehensive in another in ‘If I Loved You’. Smith’s velvetine baritone voice shifts from the salacious lover in ‘Honey Bun’ to the paternal in ‘My Little Girl’ and the heartbroken in ‘This Nearly Was Mine’, and Mondelo offers a wide gamut, including a distressed partner in a psychotherapy session in ‘Maria’ and forlorn ex-boyfriend in ‘All At Once You Love Her’, alongside many more lighthearted moments to boot.
Ensemble work is also on point, with tight duets and trios relishing in the jazz arrangements of the standards made for this show – one could swear it is the Andrews Sisters singing ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’.
Though some opening night jitters showed in the form of occasional unclear diction and pitchiness, much of the difficulty of this show comes rather from its revue structure. With the lack of a narrative throughline common to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s output, the audience is left with an abstracted series of songs mapped to match the typical emotional peaks and troughs of a show, but lacking a sense of direction or continuity. For this production, a solution to this might be found in the instrumentation, with additional players (even just a three-piece band) providing flexibility in timbral contrast between numbers, thereby allowing the music to tell the story in the absence of a coherent book.
In any case, A Grand Night For Singing marks an impressive debut by Exeunt (Pursued by a Bear), and one looks forward excitedly to their next venture present on some enchanted evening yet to come.
Reviewed 25 Feb 2022 at The Little Theatre, The University of Adelaide.