Songs Sung True 

Superlative singers launch Kalliope, a theater for musicals.

Some people despise musicals because they can't understand why, in the midst of conversation, otherwise normal folks would suddenly erupt into song. "That never happens in real life," they say. "Tough titty," respond others, who adore these melodic asides that focus on exquisite moments -- passion, regret, love's delirium -- that deepen and enrich our mortal existence.

For those who consider musical theater as necessary for survival as unpolluted air, clean water, and a well-priced Shiraz, there's a new company in town dedicated solely to producing this kind of fare. And based on its first production, A Grand Night for Singing, Kalliope Stage is going to be a mandatory addition to the entertainment schedule. Tucked into a tiny storefront on Lee Road across from Heights High, Kalliope provides three rows of up-close seating so an audience can experience the full melodic impact and, perhaps, check out the singers' adenoids in the process.

A Grand Night for Singing is a collection of songs penned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for hit Broadway shows including Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and Oklahoma! In this production, directed with style and wit by Paul F. Gurgol, the time is the late 1940s, and the songs are loosely arranged by the four seasons, from the initial stirrings of amour in Spring ("Hello, Young Lovers") to the reflective repose of Winter ("I Have Dreamed").

But the real stars of Kalliope's maiden musical voyage are the five performers, who explore every nuance of these time-honored songs with their exceptional vocal talents, whether performing solo or together, backed by simple piano accompaniment. The three women in the cast are gifted singers, with elegant Joan Ellison (who is the music director) possessing the best pipes. Her heartfelt rendition of "Something Wonderful" is, well, something wonderful. Blond spitfire Lisa Spinelli flashes sly winks and sexy smiles in "I Cain't Say No," and adorable Allison Hedges beautifully evokes the tenderness of "If I Loved You." On the equally adept male side, Kalliope's executive director John Paul Boukis captures the poignancy of "Love Look Away," and constantly smiling Robert Burian delivers splendidly on "We Kiss in the Shadow."

Director Gurgol effortlessly transitions from one tune to the next and optimizes the small playing area with ever-shifting focal points. As nearly perfect as the song stylings are, there are a couple of minor glitches. There is very little onstage magnetism between the men and the women, which undercuts the flights of romance. And while the women are adorned in some stunning period costumes in Act Two, the plaid sport jacket Boukis wears in a wedding scene makes him look like a Revenge of the Nerds audition reject.

Still, this Grand Night is a gleaming treasure of musical excellence; it should not be missed by anyone who loves it when people burst into song for any damn reason they want.

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