And within each show were the showstoppers, those numbers that often made mincemeat of the surrounding score and stars of such people as Shirley MacLaine and Chita Rivera. Quality Hill Playhouse executive director J. Kent Barnhart has picked a bushel of showstoppers to propel the latest Quality Hill cabaret of the same name, and there's the rub: Out of context, a surfeit of such numbers is somewhat numbing.
"All Aboard for Broadway" from George M appropriately opens the show and the season with the sweetly harmonious quartet of Barnhart, Blanch Boone, Nancy Nail, and James Wright. From there, Barnhart alters the Quality Hill template not a whit: five or six songs interspersed with Barnhart monologues about the rubes of Raytown and, in this production, Blue Springs and the Ozarks. One wonders, after familiar jabs about trailer parks and no public television, how long he can polish the same rock without grinding it to dust.
A showstopper is a subjective thing. No one is more steadfast and opinionated than a lover of musical theater, where shows are either horrible or wonderful. The same black-and-white applies to a show's score. When Show-stoppers goes for "Being Alive" from Company or "Try to Remember" from The Fantastiks, there's no arguing their rightful place in this revue. But "I've Never Been in Love Before" from Guys and Dolls over "Adelaide's Lament"? "The Music That Makes Me Dance" from Funny Girl? The latter was so banal, it never made it into the movie. If this were truly a list of the greatest showstoppers of all time, there would be riots in Times Square.
Some of the offerings do pay off. Wright's "Try to Remember" is the perfect complement to his range and style. Ditto, Nail's "If He Walked Into My Life" from Mame and Boone's "Think of Me" from Phantom of the Opera. But a cabaret venue isn't as kind to other songs, as beautifully composed as they are. The selection of the Les Miserables tour de force for three voices, sung by characters Eponine, Marius, and Cosette near the end of the first act, retains little of its gravity when performed in evening gowns and tuxedos. And "Getting Married Today," apparently a Barnhart favorite given its frequent appearances in Quality Hill revues, perhaps needs to be packed away for a while. That it still makes the Quality Hill audience chuckle speaks more to the audience's attention span than the freshness of the jokes.
Despite Barnhart's playing, which takes over the room in such numbers as the title song from Ragtime (it's both assertive and graceful), the bounty just doesn't materialize. For a cornucopia of alleged showstoppers, in fact, the end result is a ho-hum, no-surprise show. Boone, who fares well re-creating the songs by dim-bulb ingenues (such as Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls), can't convey the conviction of anything earthier. She's pretty and appealing but strikingly uncomplicated. Conversely, Nail has the sassiness to pull off anything from Mame that nullifies the downtrodden plaint of "More Than You Know."
A new season means a new set, and though the gray and mauve of last year's stage was getting old, the rehab makes one lament ever wishing for the old set's demise. The gleaming, freshly sanded wood floor is great, but the corresponding paneling is atrocious, helped not at all by the addition of gauzy material and the juxtaposition of grayish columns. It's like a garage converted for puppet shows.