Quality Control

Quality Hill Playhouse’s new cabaret, Love Is Here to Stay, assertively

shows off Kent Barnhart’s knack for compiling songs of the 20th century around a theme — here, romance. But the show’s bittersweet aftertaste suggests the alternate title, If Love Is Here to Stay. Though there are more than a dozen Gershwin tunes of the “moon … June … croon” variety, there are just as many by George and Ira and a few non-Gershwins that would tend to rhyme “moon” with “buffoon.” Love doesn’t just stay in this show; it sometimes mutates, festers and causes many a damaged heart so much grief.

Take Dave Frishberg’s “Peel Me a Grape,” which singer Melinda MacDonald delivers as a smoldering demand of a lover to polar bear rug me (just) don’t bug me. The unseen boy toy may have been perfectly realized in her previous number with Seth Golay, “Embraceable You,” which (because Golay is in his early 20s and MacDonald is not) almost demands a medley including “Mrs. Robinson.” Neither number exactly touts love among equals, giving both a tongue-in-cheek tartness.

Costarring Carol Royster, a soprano whose voice loses some of its sweetness and clarity in the upper octaves, the show is a healthy balance of love unblemished and love untoward. Registering the meatiest, though, is Barnhart himself, who delivers humorous jabs at the world with “They All Laughed” and the show’s featured genre with “Blah, Blah, Blah.” Sans vocals, he also plays an arrangement of “S’Wonderful” that is one of only a handful that Gershwin solely arranged. The performance is cabaret with historical depth, something that, in Kansas City anyway, Barnhart has the exclusive rights to do — and do well.

Categories: A&E, Stage