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Review: ‘Unexpected Songs’ showcases best of musical theater

By Barbara L. Fredricksen, Times Correspondent
Published: March 8, 2018

HUDSON — At first glance, melding the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, as is done in Unexpected Songs at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, sounds like pairing a skating duo with a snow boarder in the Olympics.

The moves and styles seem diametrically opposite. Rodgers and Hammerstein are smooth, traditional story-tellers, with long stretches of dialogue and easily hummable tunes; Webber goes for pageantry and high drama, streaked with dissonant music and vocal gymnastics.

Even so, both were ground-breakers in musical theater. R&H popularized the blending of songs with story, letting their lyrics advance the plot, instead of being add-ons, as had been the tradition. Webber brought the sung-through, operatic story to the stage, with scant dialogue, most of it spoken like a song lyric.

Surprisingly, as done by musical arranger/music director Jeremy Silverman, Unexpected Songs works beautifully, showcasing the composers’ most beloved — and familiar — songs, offering medleys of several, adding some less familiar ones from shows like Song and Dance, Flower Drum Song and Starlight Express, and once, blending an R&H song with a Webber song to create something new and delightful.

That’s the synthesizing Webber’s Everything Is All Right from Jesus Christ, Superstar with R&H’s My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. Think about it; they’re both reassuring people in their time of fear, and it fits, even though the songs’ tempos and subject matter are miles apart.

Silverman even blends two R&H songs to carry one theme, You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel and Climb Ev’ry Mountain from The Sound of Music.

Silverman puts new and unexpected tempos to familiar tunes, turning South Pacific’s Nothing Like a Dame into a finger-snapping, doo wop cadence, with a little Sha Boom thrown in, then making the light-hearted I Cain’t Say No from Oklahoma! into a sultry, jazzy, supper club-ish piece, sparked by singer Chandra Albritton’s sexy moves and Kirk Reyes’ throbbing string bass.

The heart of the show is the singers, starting with tall, assured Clay Smith’s powerful voice (Music of the Night, Some Enchanted Evening, Love, Look Away, I’d Be Good for You) and the lovely Lindsay Dyett (The Sound of Music and a show highlight, Memory from Cats), whose mature, opera-like soprano is clear and true.

Show Palace veteran Colleen Campbell shines singing Wonderful from The King and I and in duets with Trenton Bainbridge such as Spring Fever from State Fair and People Will Say We’re in Love from Oklahoma!

Special kudos to Bainbridge for stepping in to sing difficult lyrics originally assigned to Ralph Prentice Daniel, an opera and Broadway singer, who came down with laryngitis hours before the opening-night curtain. Bainbridge is more a pop singer, but he handled Daniel’s challenging songs with grace and poise.

Icing on the cake are dancers Jake Tingle and Emily Bainbridge. Tingle is simply awesome dancing to Macavity from Cats, with leaps and turns and acrobatic maneuvers linked by lithe, smooth movements with nary a wobble. Ms. Bainbridge amazes not only with her graceful, fluid dancing, but even more her skill and courage on the silks, when she winds her body to the ceiling, swings and turns with serene confidence, then plunges to the floor, catching herself inches from that hard surface and earning appreciative gasps and applause from the audience.

Indeed Tingle and Bainbridge add color, excitement and passion to many of the show’s numbers, as do costume coordinator Pat Wener’s elegant gowns and suits.

Director/choreographer Jill Godfrey’s eight-member cast and live three-piece musical combo complement set designer Tood Everest’s multi-layered stage and light designer Michael Sessa’s moody rays to set just the right emotion for each piece.

Unexpected Songs is a must for Broadway music lovers, as well as anyone who appreciates good singing and exciting dancing, plus tidbits from three of musical theater’s greatest shows.