Over the past 11 seasons, J. Kent Barnhart has developed a formula for entertaining cabaret-style shows at Kansas City’s Quality Hill Playhouse. From biographical portraits of great composers such as Cole Porter and Harold Arlen to shows that celebrate the music of the Great White Way and Silver Screen, Quality Hill Playhouse productions regularly deliver solid performances in an intimate setting.
The latest go-around, It Takes Two, is a typical Barnhart revue of many great duets from stage and screen, pulling numbers from early Broadway classics such as Showboat and Girl Crazy, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest hits, and selections from more recent, but lesser known, shows like City of Angels, Jekyll and Hyde, and Falsettos.
Barnhart showcases a solid veteran cast, familiar to Quality Hill patrons: Charles Fugate (Tapestry, The World Goes ‘Round), Matt Leisy (Christmas in Song), Blanche Shively (Songs from the Silver Screen), and Julie Taylor (Nothin’ Like a Dame).
But, when you’re putting five to six new shows together each season, some shows are bound to be better than others. Unfortunately, It Takes Two just doesn’t quite live up to the standards Quality Hill Playhouse has offered in recent years.
The production celebrates the great duets but never quite goes so far as to explore the universal emotions and complicated relationships that motivate such timeless songs. Instead, the audience is presented a somewhat schizophrenic mish-mash of 26 songs from 25 different shows programmed in roughly chronological order with commentary by Barnhart between sets.
There’s little romantic chemistry between the principals during the love songs, but look for exceptional performances from Leisy and Taylor in “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” from Annie Get Your Gun, the ladies in “For Good” from Wicked, and the gentlemen in “What Would I Do” from Falsettos.
Shively, several months pregnant with her first child, shines throughout, and, once again, Barnhart demonstrates an amazing chemistry with his singers, leading them through the challenging two-hour vocal repertoire.
It Takes Two is a good show with good performances, but throw in more coherent organization and an engaging script and it could be great.
It Takes Two will be presented daily (except Tuesdays) at the Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th Street, through May 21. For tickets, go to www.qualityhillplayhouse.com or call (816) 421-1700."