When I saw that Quality Hill Playhouse was doing a show consisting of songs from MGM movies, I naturally expected to hear classic tunes written for all those musicals the historic studio pumped out in the 1930s and ’40s.
But J. Kent Barnhart, Quality Hill’s executive director, had something a little different in mind when he assembled the songbook for “That’s Entertainment: The MGM Years.” Yes, we get plenty of numbers from those classic musicals, but this show reflects the amazing breadth of the music created, recorded and filmed under the MGM banner.
Indeed, Barnhart kicks off the show with an elegant piano arrangement of “Tara’s Theme” from “Gone With the Wind” by Max Steiner and by Act 2 leads us into the ’60s with Tim Scott belting out “Viva Las Vegas.”
Scott is always fun to watch, and he joins Barnhart onstage with two of the classiest singers in town — Lauren Braton and Kathryn Long — and bassist Brian Wilson and drummer Ken Remmert. Wilson and Remmert are a crack rhythm unit with chops to spare. They’re so good that often I found my eyes wandering over to their side of the stage.
Long is operatically trained but can wrap her smooth vocal delivery around a pop tune and make it her own. That’s what she does with “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe” from “Cabin in the Sky” and “All the Things You Are” from “Till the Clouds Roll By.”
Braton is an expert when it comes to selling a song, but with her voice there’s not much selling required. She again demonstrates impressive versatility with the deeply romantic “Who’s Sorry Now” from “Three Little Words” and the lighthearted “Johnny One Note” from “Words and Music.”
Scott brings his deadpan sense of humor to the stage, which is showcased nicely in “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life” from “Royal Wedding.”
The ensemble numbers include memorable renditions of “Too Darn Hot,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Love Is Here to Stay” and “Blue Moon,” and Scott and Barnhart team up for a lively version of “The Lady Is a Tramp.”
The songwriters whose work this show celebrates include Tin Pan Alley greats — Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Cole Porter — as well as blues singer and rock ’n’ roll lyricist Doc Pomus. That’s another way of saying this show represents many of the best songwriters of the 20th century.
But that’s true of almost every Quality Hill show. The intimate downtown theater is like a temple where congregations worship the amazing creativity of American popular culture.
To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to email@example.com.
“That’s Entertainment: The MGM Years” runs through Feb. 15 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St. Call 816-421-1700 or go to qualityhillplayhouse.com.