J. Kent Barnhart's cabaret show Oscar Sings at Quality Hill Playhouse would have made sense had it been a year-by-year salute to Best Song winners -- even if we did have to sit through "You Light Up My Life" and "The Morning After" or the possible embarrassment of "Theme from Shaft" in evening clothes. There are a handful of Best Song winners in Oscar Sings, but the show is mostly a collection of songs from films nominated in other categories, songs from such movie musicals as Funny Girl that have been done in other Quality Hill shows. In the case of "Larger Than Life," the song wasn't in the movie version of My Favorite Year at all but rather in its failed Broadway adaptation.
Although much of one recent performance worked very well, there has been a bit of Oscar curse about it (an affliction so named after an alarming number of female winners like Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino subsequently appeared in hideous bombs). Quality Hill had to cancel shows last week after an illness arose in one performer's family. And a death in cast member Teri Wilder's family led to the last-minute substitution of Nancy Nail, poking big holes in Barnhart's original conception of the show. Gone were three songs from James Bond films and four others (replaced by songs from Nail's repertoire, such as "People") that coincidentally appeared in movies.
What remains of Oscar Sings is a pastiche of music from composers ranging from Harold Arlen ("Over the Rainbow") to Burt Bacharach ("Alfie"). Songs associated with Barbra Streisand number at least a half-dozen, including both "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" and the title song from her The Way We Were album, both delivered by a glowing Donna Thomason. James Wright's pristine tenor is let loose on "Moon River," "Laura" and "Three Coins in a Fountain," and the cast becomes a lush quartet for the show's highlight, a version of "Blues in the Night" that is so well mounted, it gives the intimate Quality Hill theater more breadth than one would think possible.
There are as many inside Oscar stories as there are stars who've walked the red carpet, but Barnhart opts instead to talk about the mayor of Raytown and some failed auditions in his past. Barnhart's polished way of slamming things could have made much of such Oscar debacles as the notorious Rob Lowe-Snow White duet, the disastrous dance salute to Saving Private Ryan or the frightening extreme close-ups of Bob Dylan from this year's ceremony.
The theme of Oscar Sings is thus awkwardly stretched so much, it might have included songs played on the home stereo of any past Oscar winner. Songs that were actually nominees or winners that are missing in action: "Cheek to Cheek," "Lullaby of Broadway," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "The Way You Look Tonight," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Jeepers Creepers," "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "Que Sera Sera." And that's only a few of the songs nominated by 1956. Youths ages nine to nineteen whose sights are set on being the next Macaulay Culkin or Anna Paquin are advised to get cracking on their one-minute monologues, as the Coterie Theatre's open-call auditions for young performers take place Sunday, April 8, and Monday, April 9, at the theater. "No poetry," says the announcement, and musical material isn't necessary, so store those tap shoes away.
Kids are asked to bring a photo and a basic résumé to be considered for any of the theater's 2001-2002 season, which includes Sacagawea; Little House on the Shores of Silver Lake; Playing for Time; Black Butterfly, Jaguar Girl, Piñata Woman and Other Superhero Girls Like Me; The Boxcar Children; and Robin Hood. Auditions begin at 6 p.m. each day and promise to go on "until all youths have been seen."