Singing a show's tunes on the way to the car is a pretty good indicator of that production's success. So it was the night I walked out of Quality Hill Playhouse's Rhapsody in Gershwin. The talented performers sharing the tiny stage in the intimate surroundings of QHP brought the material infectiously to life.
The gifted Gershwins, from a musical era decades past, left a significant and largely familiar American songbook. George Gershwin's complex compositions and his brother Ira's clever phrasings, here laced with director and pianist J. Kent Barnhart's commentary and stories — even a kind of stand-up — are vibrant and alive.
Barnhart has curated a list of 26 songs, one segueing into the next in the first part of the revue. This material is a natural habitat for nimble singers Tim Noland and Melinda MacDonald; they exude chemistry in the love songs they share, and own the songs they do solo. LaTeesha McDonald Jackson's beautiful operatic voice, while less attuned to the program's overall repertoire, is an ideal vessel for songs such as "My Man's Gone Now," from the opera Porgy and Bess.
Performing alongside his ensemble, Barnhart shares — and sometimes steals — the spotlight. His piano takes over near the end of the show, when he holds the stage and the audience with George Gershwin's instrumental masterpiece "Rhapsody in Blue."
Ken Remmert, on drums, and Brian Wilson, on bass, appear less as musical backdrop than as co-stars as they punctuate this jazzy, popular music.
Barnhart's anecdotes and historical references add depth and context to the Gershwins and their legacy, if also length to the show, drawing it out with four interruptions that sometimes detour. But at any given performance of Rhapsody in Gershwin, a musical lover has nowhere better to be than at this party.