By Kellie Houx
When I attend a show at Quality Hill Playhouse, I am always thoroughly entertained and just a little bit wiser about those composers and lyricists who helped write the Great American Songbook. The latest show, Make Someone Happy: The Songs of Comden & Green, is no exception.
When the houselights dim, patrons know they are going to get a mix of education and loads of enjoyable musical diversion. I personally know that I am going to gain an understanding about the creative lives of lyricists and composers, their motivations and the stories behind the songs. I feel enriched. J. Kent Barnhart, the executive director, pianist and emcee, is a veritable resource. And as I have written before, he’s a tremendous pianist. I think of him as this artistic guru who is so well versed in musicals that I forget how incredible he is at the piano.
The show starts with On the Town (1944) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s collaboration with Leonard Bernstein. The movie is something many will remember, especially with songs like New York, New York, I Can Cook Too or Some Other Time. Now let me write briefly about the trio that joins Barnhart for the show: Lauren Braton, Molly Hammer and Cary Mock.
The ladies, Hammer and Braton … OK, I have to admit a little something here. I purposely seek out shows and performances with these two women. I have known Braton longer. I remember her as a sweet singer taking the stage in Pirates of Penzance with Gladstone Theatre in the Park. Now, she can be found all over the city, lending her incredible voice and lovely stage presence to anything and everything. Yeah, it’s hard to find any fault with her. She is charming and worth hearing. She has a set of pipes that are a gift.
Now, Hammer is not really the yin to Braton’s yang. The two are almost the perfect female duet. Their voices blend well and they seem to genuinely care for each other. While shows at Quality Hill Playhouse aren’t staged shows, there is some acting and they seem to enjoy each other’s company. Hammer has a voice that I wish I could have. She has the red hair and creamy skin that makes many women jealous. Add that to the feistiness of a woman who knows her vocal range and zowie, there’s a winner. She’s just the sort of singer whose voice fits jazz, blues and the American musical theater.
I can’t forget the charming Cary Mock. He is tall and easily fills the corner of the Quality Hill Playhouse stage. Yet, while I am sure that as an actor given the right role, he could be intimidating, however singing A Quiet Girl from Wonderful Town, the second collaboration of Comden and Green with Bernstein, seemed appropriately sweet and dreamy. Yes, I said dreamy in describing a man’s song, but it really was.
The second half of the show looks at Comden and Green’s relationships with Jule Styne and Cy Coleman. Hammer shines singing the tune Call Me Savage. Braton’s sort of acerbic tones come across with the song If You Hadn’t But You Did. The lyrics are some of the most clever I have heard in many moons. The ability to rhyme an “if” ending is so creative. It is something worth hearing. Of course, Make Someone Happy is just the right tune to end the show. I left humming and thoroughly thrilled that I learned about another musical partnership.
The Quality Hill Playhouse production of Make Someone Happy: The Songs of Comden & Green, runs through April 1.