Posted on May 3, 2013
5 out of 5
Carole King and James Taylor's music sets the tone for the current show through May 19th at Quality Hill Playhouse in Kansas City where musical reviews and cabaret shows set the tone and bring audiences to their feet more times than not.
"Our audiences vary; we have subscribers of all ages, including families with children," said J. Kent Barnhart, artistic and music director as well as founder of Quality Hill Playhouse.
With the current show, You’ve Got a Friend, Quality Hill Playhouse embraces the music of the Baby Boomer era with its latest production, The title song of the concert-style revue, written by Carole King, was a hit for both King and James Taylor on their respective 1971 albums Tapestry and Mud Slide Slim, Barnhart said.
The revue prominently features music by both artists, with nearly half of the first act devoted to Taylor ("Fire and Rain," "Sweet Baby James," "Carolina In My Mind," "Shower the People") and more than half of the second act devoted to King ("Up on the Roof," "I Feel the Earth Move," "It’s Too Late," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?").
Usually, the sound of Barnhart's keyboard mastery sets the tone of the evening, but the current show lets the mellow sound of the base, provided by Brian Wilson and the beat of the drums, played by Ken Remmert establish the tone. In the first half, Remmert's work on "Lean on Me" really stood out and Wilson's subtle performance on "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "At Seventeen" added to the vocal soloist performances.
The show begins with its signature piece, “You’ve Got a Friend” performed by the cast popular Kansas City singer-actors, Molly Hammer, Jessalyn Kincaid and Tim Scott, along with Barnhart and the band composed of Ken Remmert on drums and Brian Wilson on bass
"Audience response has been outstanding," said J. Kent Barnhart, musical director and writer of the show, "...clapping and singing during the songs, cheering, standing ovations. I expect and hope that that will continue!"
Barnhart said he chose the music based on the emotions and the decades of the 60s and 70s. The music reflected that feeling The mix of the popular and folk music plays well at QHP. The harmonies stood out on the title song, "You've Got a Friend" and the two final songs of the first act, "Shower the People" and "Lean on Me."
A Peter, Paul and Mary set gets the audience in the mood for the next set, where Hammer sings the Roberta Flack hit, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" from the popular Clint Eastwood movie, Play Misty for Me. Following her number, Jessalyn Kincaid performs the Janis Ian monster hit, "At Seventeen."
Highlights of the first half included the show-stopping and soulful rendition by Hammer of "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Hammer used the low register of her voice to deliver a touching ballad that drew thunderous applause from a nearly packed house. Other standouts from the first act included Scott's version of "Fire and Rain," James Taylor's mega-hit. Barnhart's version of "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" allowed him to show his soulful side and audience approval resonated through the auditorium.
The final songs of the first half allowed all performers and band to meld and fully engage in beautiful harmonies. The last songs, “Shower the People” and "Lean on Me," created audience involvement and hand clapping.
Additional hits from the singer-songwriter era included in the production are "Blowin' in the Wind" (Bob Dylan), "American Pie" (Don McLean) and "Puff the Magic Dragon" (Peter, Paul and Mary).
"I chose the music to present a varied and balanced view of the 1960s and 70s, with an emphasis on the folk feeling rather than rock," Barnhart said.
Both Hammer and Kincaid entertain Kansas Audiences frequently and their performance resumes prove that. Hammer performs throughout the city in restaurants and theaters. Kincaid frequently graces the stage at American Heartland Theater and always delivers a strong character. Hammer will perform in the final production of the American Heartland Theater which recently announced it closing after this season. Kincaid next performs at The Coterie in its final production of the season.
The male member of the performance team, Tim Scott recently completed the concert version of Sunday in the Park with George for Musical Theater Heritage. He later appears this summer in Footloose at Starlight Theatre. His deep and trained voice resonates well though the Quality Hill auditorium. In the first half, he accompanied himself on a guitar for Taylor's "Fire and Rain," and caught the mellow sound so well-associated with James Taylor. The audience loved it.
As for Barnhart, the QHP founder, continues to serve as Executive Director of Quality Hill Productions since its creation in 1995. Throughout his career, he has worked as pianist, musical director, stage director and/or producer for over 200 musicals, plays and cabaret revues. His musical artistry on the keyboard keeps patrons coming back. And, when they leave, the leave humming the tunes and wanting more.
This is the penultimate production in a series of cabaret revues exploring how American popular music has been influenced by – and in some cases, influenced – important historical and social events in our nation’s history.
The second half of the show brought a shift and more vibrant sound as the music of Carole King served as the main course. King's variety of songs brought a more rhythmic beat and more contrast to the mellow James Taylor sound. King's music sounds more soulful, a bit more gospel-like, a bit more sultry, a bit more bluesy, a bit more contemporary, a a bit more rhythmic.
Act II began with "Day by Day" from the Broadway musical Godspell and created the nice segue from the slower more mellow Taylor's music. And then, let the Carol King music begin.
Tim Scott's voice stood out on "Up on the Roof," but then Jessalyn Kincaid let loose her versions on "Beautiful" and "Where You Lead." Both pieces allowed her to energize the second half even more. With those, the battle of the began. Each song after those seemed to bring new energy and performance to the ladies. Molly Hammer was not to be outdone with "I Feel the Earth Move."
Barnhart and Scott added touches to several songs and some harmonies and select verses, but the women were in charge, until Barnhart delivered a bluesy, gospel-like version of "Way Over Yonder," but then it was time for Scott and his guitar to fight back with "American Pie."
The audience loved Scott's "American Pie" as evidenced by the loud and lengthy applause and the verve of the audience elevated more. Not to be outdone, the ladies responded with two songs that had them dueling on stage, vocally and the result brought some audience members to their feet to demonstrate their approvals. Kincaid's "A Natural Woman" allowed her to let go with her strong voice and Hammer's "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," stunned patrons.
How could Barnhart choose a song to follow that? Well, he went back to Broadway and chose the finale to the song glued to the 60s and a national hymn to the Baby Boomer generation, a song that cemented The Fifth Dimension to pop culture iconic standing, "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In." The song started and when it shifted to the familiar strains of "Let the Sun Shine In," audience members' shoulders began rhythmic shaking, feet started tapping, and soon, hands clapping. People began lip-synching the refrain and with just the least bit of encouragement, clapping and then singing.
Overall, a great ending for a fun evening, and as the final notes to the song ended, no delay existed as the audience rose to convey their approval. With such a show and such a versatile cast, the show will sell out many nights. Barnhart said that some shows are almost sold out and that the ticket demand remained strong and quick.
The audience could tell Barhnart felt passionate about his theater and career. In one of his last times to address the audience before the final songs, he said he loved what he does.
"Getting to do what you love to do with your life is a great thing” Barnhart said. "I get to do what I love and I have been doing it here for 18 years. Getting to do what you love and with your friends makes it even better."
It became obvious that his heart was speaking as he gestured to the vocalists and his band. The audience understood his passion.
Quality Hill Playhouse, lies just east and north of the Power & Light District, and near other popular downtown attractions like Bartle Hall, Municipal Auditorium, Folly Theater, Kauffman Center, and more. The Quality Hill Playhouse lies just west of Broadway and 10th Streets at 303 W. 10th Street, Kansas City, MO. Single tickets are $32, with discounts for students, seniors and groups. For tickets, call 816-421-1700. To purchase tickets online or for more information, visit www.QualityHillPlayhouse.com.
The final production, Great Big Broadway, celebrates the music in the over-the-top spectacles that have been the mainstay of Broadway since the 1970s – Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Lion King and more. Great Big Broadway runs May 31 through June 30 and features Lauren Braton, Sarah LaBarr, Tim Noland and J. Kent Barnhart.