Doreen Taylor, who conceived and wrote “Sincerely, Oscar” and also stars in it, and director Dugg McDonough, with the strong aid of projection designer Brittany Merenda, cast a spell in taking us into the world of renowned lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Part of it is the seduction of listening to the array of well-known and beloved musical numbers, appealingly sung by Taylor and her co-star Azudi Onyejekwe as they wander about the stage on different platform levels. But there are also the incessant background projections, and importantly, the hologram image of Hammerstein reading aloud his thoughts connected to his lyric writing, and the magic of seeing him appear and disappear via the effectiveness of hologram technology.
The voice of Hammerstein (and image) is provided by Bob Meenan as the centerpiece around which the musical revolves. But the greatest audience pleasure is provided by the singing itself in a medley of hits from “Show Boat,” “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “State Fair,” “Allegro,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” and “The Sound of Music.” Taylor sings with a mix of power and charm as she interprets the cleverly creative lyrics that Hammerstein collaboratively matched to the infectious music. Onyejekwe cuts a handsome figure as handles the male characters in the songs with style and conviction. He even makes a stab at “Ol' Man River” and nails the emotion in the “Show Boat” classic, although he can’t match the depth of vocal power that some can get, with the standard set by the booming voice of Paul Robeson.
While the background projections at first can be enticing and add movement to what could be static staging, after a while they become intrusive—enough already!—and detract from the business at hand—the singing. As for the recreation of Hammerstein’s presence, that adds weight to the lyricism of the overall production.
“Sincerely, Oscar” emerges predominantly as an often mesmerizing trip into the musical world in which Hammerstein made enormous, lasting contributions. We can immerse ourselves into the gentle exploration of those contributions presented with panache by two expert singers able to honor the lyricist’s genius and express his messages about love, the joy of living, and especially the importance of racial equality as emphasized in “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific.” At the Acorn, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 5, 2019.