‘Great Duets’ get classy treatment at Quality Hill Playhouse

07/22/2014 7:00 AM

07/23/2014 7:16 PM

In the last show of a season celebrating past favorites, Quality Hill Playhouse presents “Great Duets of Musical Theatre,” a mix of familiar standards and newer, less familiar songs that provide some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking moments of the evening.

Three newcomers — Tyler Eisenreich, Shelby Floyd and Vigthor Zophoniasson — make their debuts at Quality Hill for this production, and Stacey Stofferahn returns after a seven-year hiatus during which she has been performing on opera stages around the world.

The first act focuses on the tried and true: those songs that give the characters in musical theater a chance to fall in love in 21/2 minutes, as executive producer, emcee and pianist J. Kent Barnhart explained Monday night.

Stofferahn and Zophoniasson pair up for such numbers as the haunting “Tonight” from “West Side Story” and “Make Believe” from “Show Boat,” then switch gears to provide comic relief in “Nobody’s Perfect” from “I Do, I Do.”

Floyd and Eisenreich flirt and simper their way through “Could You Use Me?” by Gershwin and “People Will Say We’re in Love” from “Oklahoma.” Floyd shows off her vocal chops in “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” and in the second act, Stofferahn’s operatic voice is perfect for “All I Ask of You,” justifying its inclusion. (Is anyone else tired of “The Phantom of the Opera”?)

All very nice, but the pace picks up with some unexpected duets that go beyond boy-girl love stories, and Barnhart gives context and meaning to the pieces in his usual between-song banter that educates as well as entertains.

First of the songs that go beyond courtship is “You’re Nothing Without Me” from “City of Angels,” with Eisenreich and Zophoniasson taking on a writer and the imaginary character he has created.

The two pair up again in the second act for the suspenseful “Pretty Women” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” and the heartbreaking “What Would I Do?” from “Falsettos,” about a man losing his newfound lover to AIDS in the early 1980s.

Stofferahn and Floyd play a mother and her “slow” daughter for “Statues and Stories” from “The Light in the Piazza,” but they fall short of capturing that relationship or the magic possible with this song.

They shine, though, as Siamese twins in “I Will Never Leave You” from “Side Show.” It’s one of those soul-stirring, showstopping songs that makes you feel like anything’s possible.

And indeed, Barnhart talks about the power of musical theater going beyond entertainment, with a plea for audience members to “think differently.”

My favorite in the show is the pairing of Barnhart and Floyd for two plaintive and downright beautiful ballads from Roger Miller’s “Big River” that are a little more “country” than I’d expect to hear at Quality Hill.

The mood of the second act is lightened by the toe-tapping tune “You and Me” from “Victor/Victoria” and the hilarious “You Wanna Be My Friend?” from “Closer Than Ever,” with Floyd telling Eisenreich just what she thinks of his offer.

The show ends with all five (guess that’s not technically a duet) in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Changes Everything,” a catchy tune I found myself humming on the way home.

Georgianna Londre Buchanan returns as costume designer and has the male vocalists trading their usual tuxes for dark suits, gray shirts and gray patterned ties while the two women keep it simple with black cocktail dresses.

Barnhart’s not as funny, it seems, when not talking about his Raytown childhood, but he did get laughs Monday night with an explanation of euphemisms that replace the term “flop” when a Broadway show fails.

No euphemisms needed for this show, though. It’s definitely a hit.

The show

“Great Duets” runs through Aug. 17 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St. Call 816-421-1700 or go to qualityhillplayhouse.com.

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