Although show tunes generally rule at Quality Hill, the latest cabaret revue, “What They Did for Love,” features the music of Marvin Hamlisch and Burt Bacharach and ventures into the world of pop music. The result is a slickly produced and well-paced show.
It’s in keeping with this year’s theme of “Hooray for Hollywood: Magical Music From the Movies,” as Hamlisch and Bacharach composed award-winning songs and scores for numerous films.
Artistic producing director J. Kent Barnhart has gathered an impeccable group of singers, all veterans of Quality Hill: Melinda MacDonald, Tim Noland and LeShea Wright, joined by Ken Remmert on drums and Brian Wilson on bass guitar.
Barnhart, who directed the show and serves as emcee, not only accompanies on the concert grand but plays a synthesizer (for that pop music sound) placed on top of the piano, sometimes both at once. And, as usual, he sings.
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Act 1 features the music of Hamlisch and begins with a Scott Joplin tune, “The Entertainer,” memorably arranged by Hamlisch for his Oscar-winning score to “The Sting.” Every piano student I knew in high school learned “The Entertainer,” but most of us pounded it out as fast as we could. Barnhart’s deft playing captures the nuances and emotions of the piece.
It’s followed by a medley from the Broadway musical “They’re Playing Our Song,” pieces that haven’t been overplayed and overheard, ending with the rousing and hopeful, “I Still Believe in Love.”
Noland gets the maximum emotion from “If You Remember Me” from “The Champ” and “The Last Time I Felt Like This” from “Same Time, Next Year.”
MacDonald could sing the phone book and keep you mesmerized, but she has more to work with on “The Way We Were” from the film of the same name. She also gets the sentimental but beautiful (or schmaltzy, depending on your viewpoint, and played way too many times on the radio in its heyday) “Through the Eyes of Love” from “Ice Castles.”
Wright imbues “Nobody Does It Better” with a jazzy feel from the James Bond flick “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
The first act ends with Quality Hill’s trademark harmonies on three well-known songs from “A Chorus Line,” including the showstopper “What I Did for Love.”
Act 2 features the music of Kansas City-born Bacharach (and I confess to not being a big fan), opening with “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Wright shines on Bacharach tunes recorded by Dionne Warwick, especially “That’s What Friends Are For” from “Night Shift” and “Walk on By.” MacDonald and Wright have fun with “You’ll Never Get to Heaven,” and all four enjoy “This Guy’s in Love With You.”
MacDonald’s “The Look of Love” from “Casino Royale” and Noland’s “Any Day Now” were also definite crowd-pleasers.
Georgianna Londre Buchanan’s costumes capture the spirit of the show, with the men trading their standard tuxes for dark suits. I am ever so grateful she didn’t choose leisure suits for them.
MacDonald and Wright wear mod-style dresses in aqua and orange during Act 1 and then maxi dresses for Act 2. They scream 1970.
Michael Heuer’s sound design deserves a mention. The third-year MFA candidate at UMKC enhanced the pop music sound with extra reverb. It’s subtle but effective.
As usual, Barnhart’s between-song patter serves to entertain as well as educate. I was amused when he said he wouldn’t list the awards one set of songs had received. “You all have Google.”
The audience gave the performers a standing ovation on opening night after the uplifting “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”
“What They Did for Love” runs through May 17 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St. Call 816-421-1700 or go to www.qualityhillplayhouse.com.