Mark My Words
Catch some divine sounds here
"Sweet Jesus, but it’s hot today!”
These are the first words uttered by Hanna, a person I love to portray at presentations, retreats and workshops. Hanna is a delightful, faith-filled character from the fertile imagination of our very own archdiocesan priest, Father Ed Hays. She’s found in the story, “Hanna’s Harmonica,” in Father Hays’ “The Ethiopian Tattoo Shop.”
Hanna has been on my mind not because of the weather, but because of another point to her story: the divine power of music. In a nutshell, God speaks to Hanna one Sunday morning on her way to church because her harmonica music touched his heart. God tells Hanna that laughter and music are the language of heaven, and that “all music is sacred, not simply churchy music.”
God goes on to say, “Music is harmony, and whenever you play it or really listen to it, you proclaim the mystery of my being. . . . All of my children are meant to be musicians, for the making of music is the way of returning to me. . . . Whenever you play music or truly listen to it, you are in me and I am in you.”
Music has always been a part of my life. I grew up listening to a variety of songs — from polka records to Christmas albums to Dolly Parton crooning, “I never promised you a rose garden.” As I got older, I started to make music of my own, starting with a Flutophone and then moving on to a Magnus chord organ, a tamburitza and, most recently, a ukulele.
It is, however, a special treat for me to sit back and listen to music. One of my favorite places to do that is a small, intimate, 150-seat venue called the Quality Hill Playhouse, located at 303 W. 10th in Kansas City, Missouri. According to its website, QHP is “devoted to classical musicals and the Great American Songbook.” Typically, it offers six shows a year. I’ve had season tickets for at least 10 years and can honestly say I’ve never been disappointed in a performance. And there’s not a bad seat in the house.
I was just there this past Saturday evening for the last show of this season, called “Judy, Barbra, Liza,” featuring the songs of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Liza Minelli. It’s rare that I’m at a loss for words, but the only way to describe this show is: WOW!
Three extremely talented singers — Lauren Braton, Christina Burton and Ashley Pankow — transport the audience from one hit to another, 30 in all. The show’s first half features songs made famous by Judy and Barbra. The selections are sometimes performed by a soloist; other times, by a duet or trio. Among the offerings are: “You Made Me Love You,” “Come Rain of Come Shine,” “Over the Rainbow,” “People,” “On a Clear Day,” and “Evergreen.”
After the intermission, the vocalists serenade the crowd with songs by Liza and then do a concluding section with classics by all three. Some of the songs featured in the second half were: “ Don’t Tell Mama,” “Maybe This Time,” “City Lights,” “Together Wherever We Go,” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.” By the end of the evening, I was exhausted from applauding so much. Yes, it is that good.
The stunning vocals are ably assisted by J. Kent Barnhart on the piano, Ken Remmert on drums and Brian Wilson on bass. In addition to being the director, Barnhart intersperses some commentary — always informative, frequently funny — about the various songs. It is readily apparent all through this show that all on stage are thoroughly enjoying what they’re doing.
Watching Lauren, Christina and Ashley sing not only with their voices but with their hearts, made this a night to treasure. We are so blessed to have talent of this caliber right here in the Heartland.
Originally, this show was supposed to close on June 28 but, because of its popularity, it’s running until July 12. If you’re in the Kansas City area and want a taste of Paradise, grab some tickets to “Judy, Barbra, Liza.” Call (816) 421-1700 or get a sneak peek on its website at: www.qualityhillplayhouse.com. I’d not wait too long, though, as tickets will go fast.
If I’m lucky enough one day to make it to the kingdom of heaven, I’m reasonably sure that not only will I hear harmonica music there, but I’ll know what at least three of the angels will look and sound like: Lauren, Christina and Ashley!