Barnhart & Co.
The title of J. Kent Barnhart’s latest cabaret, Four’s Company, is a bit misleading. Songs arranged for four voices get plenty of the five-voice treatment here, with Barnhart singing more than usual, even stepping out from behind the piano for the three choices performed a cappella. But the “company” part is perfect. The show is the equivalent of that party guest who radiates such warmth and is such a bon vivant that his or her departure takes the twinkle out of the room.
Barnhart draws from far beyond the classic musicals that usually populate his shows. There are certainly a few: “Kansas City” (with its characters’ astonishment at the seven-story skyscrapers in the big city) from Oklahoma, West Side Story‘s “Somewhere,” and an eccentric version of “Cabaret” that was heard several years ago in the Kander and Ebb tribute musical And the World Goes Round. But he also has selected such standards as “Misty” and “As Time Goes By,” familiar Muzak staples that here receive a spit shine.
Making up the quartet are Karen Errington, Alison Sneegas Borberg, Angelo Cilia, and, in his Quality Hill debut, college student Matt Sopha, and everyone sings in every number. A few bars here and there are passed around — such as in “Kansas City,” which the ladies start and the gentlemen finish — but the show is really about harmony without the corniness of a barbershop quartet. Fans of Manhattan Transfer understand completely: The soprano gets the melody while the alto, tenor, and bass complete the picture, coloring well within the lines.
Not usually much of a risk-taker, Barnhart pulls a couple of surprises. He has selected two numbers, “We Need Heroes” and “Spend It While You Can,” from Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, the highly esteemed but seldom-seen AIDS musical by Janet Hood and University of Kansas alum Bill Russell. And Barnhart’s Raytown church roots are tapped for the traditional hymn “Farther Along,” whose arrangement is credited to Emmylou Harris.
“Stuck On You” is a humorously revolting twist on normal expressions of obsession. Composers Dick Gallagher and Mark Waldrop produce a long list of imagery foreign to the cabaret format, where the singers remind their loved ones that they’re stuck on them like “crud on a fender” or “old guacamole on the blades of a blender.” By the time they get to the simile of smashed bugs on a windshield, all that’s missing is that pesky bit of pesto between the teeth that has ruined many a first date.
While Barnhart fills his summer calendar with the city’s 150th birthday party, A Toast to Kansas City, and a one-man show in July called Stop Me If You’ve Heard This, there’s also no rest in the space adjoining Quality Hill Playhouse’s lobby. There, the restaurant Sienna has replaced the once-reliable Bellucci’s. The latter had a good run when Mary Ann Bellucci was in charge but had seen itself deteriorate. Brian and Shannon Briggs vow to again make it an oasis for Quality Hill patrons.
The man of the house, whose restaurant credentials include The Bristol, Harry Starker’s, and Classic Cup, is modest for a new business owner yet hopeful that Sienna will fill a niche.
“We’re not trying to make culinary history here,” he says, “just make people feel comfortable and relaxed, a place where they can share garlic and goat cheese and have a reasonably priced Merlot.”
The restaurant was open for drinks last week but had yet to get the go-ahead to light up the grill from the city’s codes wonks. Where Bellucci’s had a tiny two-seat bar that was usually encircled by Quality Hill patrons at intermission, the new bar is at least five times as long.
“We modeled it after the bar that used to be at the west entrance of Union Station, with the old iron lamps,” Briggs says, “though this one is of course smaller.”
Asked whether he felt any sense of camaraderie with Quality Hill, Briggs was evasive. He says he certainly wants the theater’s patrons but the place is really for the locals who call Quality Hill or the surrounding lofts home.
By the close of Four’s Company‘s run, Sienna should be up and running — also welcome news for Quality Hill regulars who lately could only look inside the locked space and wonder.
through June 25
at Quality Hill Playhouse
303 West 10th St.