In Pipe Dream, Osnes is surrounded by a terrific company, including Wopat, Will Chase, Leslie Uggams, and Stephen Wallem, all of whom are in top form. And the combined work of these artists along with the Encores! orchestra, led by Rob Berman, makes this little-known musical sparkle brightly.
The show, which is based on a pair of novels by John Steinbeck, centers on the lives and loves of a group of misfits in a small California seaside town, specifically, Doc (Chase), a biologist, who's a bit more interested in the creatures he studies than other people, and Suzy (Osnes), a young vagrant who comes to town.
An awkward romance soon develops between Doc and Suzy, and with the help of Fauna (Uggams), the owner of the local brothel where Suzy takes up residences, as well as town locals Mac (Wopat) and Hazel (Wallem), the pair eventually find their happy ending.
Rodgers' score is filled with tunes that beautifully bring the period and color of the place to life, even as it soars with the sort of melodiousness that listeners expect from more familiar shows like Oklahoma! and South Pacific.
One particularly lovely selection is the lush romantic ballad, "All at Once You Love Her," that Chase croons to perfection, and the plaintive "Everybody's Got a Home But Me," a tune that expresses how Suzy longs to put down roots, and which Osnes fills with deeply felt emotion.
Among the show's other highlights is the sweet, yet somehow melancholy, "Suzy Is a Good Thing," in which Fauna attempts to get Suzy to see her own worth -- a tune that Uggams and Osnes deliver with moving finesse -- a couple of more raucous tunes for the guys, particularly the daffy "A Lopsided Bus," and "Thinkin'," a comic song for Hazel that Wallem fills with sweetness.
Berman's direction of the orchestra has a remarkable precision, and the musicians' work supports the vocalists to perfection. Also notable is the balance and clarity of this live recording, which includes just enough dialogue to help listeners follow the story and just the right levels of audience reaction to create a sense of being present at City Center for one of the Encores! performances.
The CD's full-color booklet features not only a slew of photos and a synopsis, but also essays by Ted Chapin (president of Rodgers and Hammerstein) and Jack Viertel (artistic director of Encores!), which help to contextualize the show and assist listeners in understanding why this recording is both a musical and historic triumph.