NEW YORK — IT may be hard to believe, but until recently there had never been a New York-produced musical revue devoted to the songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein.
The estate had always been reluctant to give permission. Then, last year the executors gave in, and ``A Grand Night for Singing'' was presented at Rainbow & Stars, the cabaret space adjacent to the glamorous Rainbow Room, just in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the duo's collaboration on ``Oklahoma.'' It was so well received that an expanded version of the show has opened on Broadway.
This revue contains nearly three dozen songs from the * & H canon, from shows such as ``Carousel,'' ``South Pacific,'' ``The King and I,'' ``Flower Drum Song,'' and even their television musical ``Cinderella.'' Performed by a talented cast of five, all but one of whom are holdovers from the previous Rainbow production, the show, sans story or narration, presents one gem after another.
Which is not to say that the evening is entirely successful. Performed on a nearly bare set, the show too readily reveals its cabaret origins. Shorn of structure or some kind of dramatic contrivance, the evening becomes a simple song recital, and although it includes some of the loveliest songs in theatrical history (``Hello, Young Lovers,'' ``If I Loved You,'' ``Some Enchanted Evening''), they lack the kind of intellectual complexity that invigorates a show devoted to a composer such as Stephen Sondheim. Although the production stays clear of oversentimentality, there is an overall sweetness to the evening that becomes cloying.
Thankfully, director Walter Bobbie, who conceived the show, left out some of the more obvious songs. He has leavened the proceedings with humor, particularly with Jason Graae and Victoria Clark, both of whom deliver expert comic performances (they also prove they are emotionally expressive singers). Graae, with such novelty numbers as ``Maria'' and ``Surrey With the Fringe on Top,'' and Clark, singing songs such as ``I Can't Say No,'' give the evening some much-needed laughter.
The other performers, Martin Vidnovic, Alyson Reed, and Lynne Wintersteller, demonstrate why they are some of today's most valued (and underutilized) musical performers. All have high points: Vidnovic, with a beautiful rendition of ``This Nearly Was Mine''; Reed, with ``A Wonderful Guy,'' and Wintersteller, with ``Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful.''
Another highlight is the three women's version of ``I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,'' reconceived as a stirring feminist anthem. The musical arrangements by Fred Wells, and the orchestrations for the six-piece band, by Michael Gibson and Jonathan Tunick, convey the music beautifully.
``A Grand Night for Singing'' doesn't have the transcendence to overcome the limitations of its genre. But it's hard not to regret the passing of an era when songs of this caliber debuted regularly on New York stages.