The best of musical theater is showcased next week when old and new Broadway stars combine their talents in the dynamic musical revue, “An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein: A Tribute to Joan Roberts.”
Indeed, it will be some enchanted evening when a collection of 13 performers, including student vocalists, gather together to highlight Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s vast songbook, on Saturday, May 25. This special concert – the first production from South Shore Theatricals, in conjunction with the Madison Theatre – honors Joan Roberts, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original Laurey in “Oklahoma!.”
The brilliant composer and lyricist are acknowledged to have changed the face of musical theater, notably from their collaboration with“Oklahoma!” and on subsequent shows.
And with Joan Roberts (a Rockville Centre resident for many years) who defined the role of the plucky heroine Laurey, “Oklahoma!” – which opened in 1943 and ran for 2,212 performances – set the standard for the modern American musical.
That show also propelled Roberts to stardom, and a life-long commitment to honoring and preserving Rodgers and Hammerstein’s legacy. In the process, Roberts, who died last year (Aug. 13, 2012) created her own legacy through her philanthropic efforts with area arts organizations and support of local students interested in pursuing a performing career.
“South Shore Theatricals dedicates its premiere production, produced in cooperation with the Madison Theatre at Molloy College, as a tribute to our late board member and advisor Joan Roberts,” said Bruce Bider, co-founder of South Shore Theatricals, with his partner John Pane. “Joan was strong supporter of the performing arts on Long Island, and Molloy College in particular, helping to raise the funds that built the Hays Theater. She spent the latter part of her life supporting theater here on Long Island. She was particularly noted for giving performers from Long Island great encouragement in furthering their theatrical pursuits.”
Among those young performers that Roberts took under wing, is Sarah Losner, 17-year-old senior at Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick. The young singer-actress, who will be entering Molloy College next fall, is already acclaimed throughout Long Island for her work in regional and community theater. She will appear in this concert, along with her sister, Julia Losner, 14, who is an eighth grader at Merrick Avenue Middle School.
Sarah Losner has been enamored with Roberts since she first appeared in “Oklahoma!” as a student in Usdan Center’s summer performing arts program. “I love singing and musical theater,” Losner said. “Joan was very helpful to me and gave me some great insight into performing. It is important to honor her memory for those that she has helped. I am glad to have this opportunity to perform at Molloy, where I will be going to school.”
“Sarah is extremely well trained, with an angelic, operatic voice who is perfect for this type of music,” said Bider, an Oceanside resident, who teaches music in the Oceanside School District and is Director of Musical Productions for Oceanside Middle and High Schools. “She exemplifies the type of young performer Joan would encourage and by having her participate, we are continuing Joan’s legacy of furthering young talent and her love of musical theater. Sarah’s sister, Julia, is another example of a young girl who is incredibly talented.” A triple threat, the younger Losner sings, acts and composes music.
The Losner sisters join an ensemble of Broadway veterans and current young performers. Lee Meriwether, Marni Nixon, Lee Roy Reams and Frank Basile headline a cast that features Alyse Alan Louis, Nikki Renee Daniels, Nina Hennessey, David Hibbard, Timothy Hughes, Jeff Kready, and Sal Viviano.
“We’ve assembled a lineup of great talent that’s really special,” Bider said. “This show has something for everyone, with music that people never get tired of hearing.”
It’s an evening of memories, as the cast recreates the classic songs from the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog, in many cases performing songs that they themselves have sung in various iconic productions over the years.
“Marni Nixon appeared in the most popular musical of all time, “The Sound of Music,” Bider said, “and of course was the singing voice in the “King and I,” West Side Story,” and “My Fair Lady.” And she also succeeded Joan in the Roundabout 2001 revival of “Follies.” We are thrilled to have here with us.”
Nixon opens the concert, performing “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” She also appears in “Do Re Mi,” and does a duet of “My Favorite Things,” with Sarah and Julia Losner, later in the program.
Lee Meriwether, who Binder describes as “another living legend,” played Anna in a production of “The King & I” in a revival of the show in California in the 1990s. Here she will recreate that performance, singing “I Whistle a Happy Tune” and “Hello, Young Lovers.”
Lee Roy Reams, a veteran Broadway star, will captivate the audience singing “Younger Than Springtime” and “Oklahoma!” Reams appeared in the original Broadway production of “42nd Street” and created the role of Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast,” among his other credits.
Frank Basile, who was married to Celeste Holm, Roberts’ Oklahoma’ co-star, lends his operatic voice to “Soliloquy” and “Some Enchanted Evening.”
And there’s much more in this 90-minute show. “It’s really a concert version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest hits,” said Angelo Fraboni, Madison Theatre’s artistic director and the production’s executive producer. “It’s great to do a Rodgers and Hammerstein evening as a tribute to Joan, who did so much for Molloy, since she was a Rodgers and Hammerstein girl. We have four to five pieces from each musical, wonderful music performed by outstanding talent, backed up with a student chorus and the Children’s Orchestra Society.”
The 40-piece orchestra is comprised of premiere student musicians from throughout New York City and Long Island, ages 14-18, conducted by Music Director Michael Dadap.
“We have combined professionals with amateurs to broaden the experience for the students, professionals and the audience,” said Fraboni. “We want the audience to gain a greater understanding of who Joan Roberts was, what she meant to Rodgers and Hammerstein and her contributions to the South Shore. This is a terrific program that people are sure to love.”
Proceeds will help support a scholarship fund for vocal majors at Molloy College.
An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein
Saturday, May 25, 8 p.m. $20-$75.
Madison Theatre at Molloy College, Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre.
(516) 678-5000 ext. 7715 or www.madisontheatreny.org.