Kim Criswell: 'There are no nuns but a male suitor sings about a girlfriend he doesn't understand'
- Carol Main
- 26 July 2021
The stage director and singer presents A Grand Night For Singing at the EIF, celebrating the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein
After endless months of singing voices being silenced, A Grand Night For Singing feels like more than a show. With such an affirmatory title, it's surely also a positive pronouncement that singing is back and, fingers crossed, here to stay. Covid and quarantine restrictions meantime, however, have made rehearsing A Grand Night For Singing's run of six performances a considerable challenge for stage director and singer Kim Criswell.
'Trying to learn close harmony without being in a room all together … well, I ended up saying my London garden is always available!' The particular song Criswell is talking about is 'Everything's Up To Date In Kansas City' from Oklahoma! It's but one of a tumbling cascade of Rodgers and Hammerstein classics which make up this glitzy musical revue, first seen on Broadway in 1993. 'That one is a bit of a nightmare to learn, with its Manhattan Transfer jazzed-up style,' Criswell admits. 'There's a different take on a few of the songs, while others are absolutely faithful to the original.'
In this latter camp are 'Something Wonderful' from The King And I, and the tear-jerkingly moving 'This Nearly Was Mine' from South Pacific. Originally invited to be one of the five-singer cast, it soon became clear in conversation with the Edinburgh International Festival that America-born and educated Criswell could offer much more. Would it be too much for her to stage it as well as sing in it? 'No!' was the emphatic answer. 'We gathered a group of people who are perfect together, all great talents and all working collaboratively. They have to be funny too, otherwise it's just deadly.'
Although there's no narrative as such to the show, the theme threaded through it highlights the relationships of characters in the musicals from which the songs were selected by Walter Bobbie, A Grand Night For Singing's first director. 'There are none of the big anthems like "Climb Every Mountain",' says Criswell. 'It's all about relationships, about love-match misfires. There's a fabulous, light-hearted take on "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" No nuns, but a male suitor sings about a girlfriend he doesn't understand.'
Criswell's production is not the stand up and deliver approach. 'It's much more than a concert performance,' she says. 'Nobody wants to watch people standing in a line to sing. If you're going to do "Shall We Dance?", then there's got to be a dance section.' Criswell and her colleagues (who include Australian soprano Danielle de Niese and Scottish baritone Richard Morrison) have, like every other performer, had diaries decimated this past 18 months, and can't wait to get back to live performance. 'There's nothing to compare with the electricity of an audience and artists in tune with their own musicality. The stories that Rodgers and Hammerstein tell are so universal in what they are saying about the human condition. You hear someone sing "Some Enchanted Evening", and you go to your happy place.'
A Grand Night For Singing, Edinburgh Academy Junior School, Sunday 8, Thursday 12 & Friday 13 August, 7.30pm; Tuesday 10 August, 3pm, 7.30pm; £35–£40.