This past week’s production of “Sing Happy!: A Kander and Ebb Project” was an absolute delight to the senses. Directed by Visiting Assistant Theatre Professor James Stabp and music directed by Staff Accompanist and Music Instructor Vincent Trovato, the show was a musical revue filled with the songs of the prolific musical theater composer-lyricist team of John Kander and Fred Ebb.
It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a show of this type; they’re not usually my style. However, Kander and Ebb are a classic duo, and my friend Anthony Fix ‘27 was in the show, so I found myself seated in the Empie Theatre on Sunday afternoon. Let’s just say, I’m quite glad that I did.
The show consisted of a company of 13 actors who stayed on stage almost the entire time along with a live band present onstage with them. The set was barebones, with just some chairs and various props as needed, allowing the performers to completely capture the audience’s attention. And those performers were stars in every sense of the word.
Every actor in this show was a lead in their own right. Each of them had their own solo moments which complemented and reflected on the other performers. I was particularly struck by Sidney Kaeb ‘24, Luke Enda McIntyre ‘25 and Josephine Glass ‘27, but I mean it when I say that everyone was stunning. The group numbers were beautiful, with interlocking harmonies that gave me chills multiple times. Many other audience members I talked to agreed that the show was enthralling. Caden Dowgin ‘27 said, “The show was excellent. Every performer was fantastic, and it really helped to show me some obscure Kander & Ebb I didn’t know about.”
Similar to the set, other production elements, such as costumes and lighting, were simple but effective; especially spotlights, which, while used sparingly, highlighted moments and images that will stick with me for long after the show ended.
“Sing Happy!” felt raw and intimate, even in the large space of Empie. Because the actors hardly ever left the stage, I had the pleasure of watching each of them be fully present in the moment no matter whether they were in the spotlight or not. The background was always as interesting as the foreground, which made for a very entertaining viewing experience.
What contributed most to this intimate feel was the connections between the actors. Marie E. Tohill ‘25 and Chiara Aiello ‘24 had an incredible moment in the middle of the show, singing about love and the fear of commitment. It ended with a beautiful hug between them which I must say brought tears to my eyes. It was a portrayal of a lesbian relationship devoid of queer pain, simply a story about two people who were afraid to take the next big step in their relationship. It warmed my heart and made me feel seen.
This is my second time seeing a departmental production at Muhlenberg. I’m impressed by the department’s range in type of show and tone. “The Labyrinth of Desire” was full of raucous laughter and queer joy, while “Sing Happy!” was a much more meditative, warm experience. I appreciated both equally.
While I loved the show, I must admit that it wasn’t perfect. It was sometimes difficult to hear and/or understand the performers as they became drowned out by the band. Kander and Ebb were incredible because of the partnership of their music and lyrics, so losing the latter at certain points was frustrating. Additionally, the songs chosen for the show were obviously incredible, but they were somewhat one-note. Zac Rejonis ‘27 said, “They picked ballads for almost every song, and I wished they’d picked something funny. But all the performers were really good.”
Still, my enjoyment of the show outweighs whatever criticisms I may have. To me, “Sing Happy!” was a reminder of why we make and still make musical theater. It is a genre that is uniquely heartfelt and powerful. Because of the latest Beatles single, I’ve been thinking a lot about the band. And this show reminded me of something that John Lennon said in 1968: “Talking is the slowest form of communicating. Music is much better.” That is why I love musical theater, and that is why I loved “Sing Happy!”