Editor’s Note and Disclaimer: The author of this review, Bob Douglas, had previously served on the Light Opera Works’ (LOW) board of directors and also appeared on their stage in several productions in walk-on roles. He also points out that n his current role of Managing Director of Dead Writers Theatre Collective, Inc., he understands the demands of producing classical theatre on a modern day budget.
To close out their 2016 season and three decades’ long seasons of operettas and musicals, Evanston’s Light Opera Works outdid themselves by serving up a memorable and dynamic production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus. Unfortunately Die Fledermaus only plays through January 1 at Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium. It could easily play an entire month.!
The original literary source for Die Fledermaus was Das Gefängnis (The Prison), a farce that premiered in Berlin in 1851.
An effervescent and delightful confection, Johann Strauss, Jr.’s beloved operetta Die Fledermaus waltzes right into your heart with infectious charm, witty repartee, and gorgeous melodies. As Oscar Wilde once wrote: “Revenge tastes better when served cold” and that is the story line in Die Fledermaus (The Bat).
The cunning Dr. Falke decides to play a joke on his friend Eisenstein— a little light revenge for a night of carousing gone awry. As his scheme unfolds, subplots hilariously pile up, eventually converging at an extravagant masquerade ball hosted by a Russian prince. Deceptions and disguises among friends and lovers give way to affection, laughter, and—as any happy ending should—champagne for all!
The supreme example of Viennese operetta, Die Fledermaus both defines and transcends that genre. Its story centers on a magnificent masked ball, given by a Russian prince that brings together all the main characters in various disguises. The three-act journey—from boudoir, to ballroom, to jail— provides ample opportunities for farce and humor, but also for genuine human emotion and a surprisingly realistic view of the decadent Viennese urban life.
AN EXCEPTIONALLY TALENTED COMPANY…………………..
After having seen many – actually too many – two dimensional Die Fledermaus productions all over the world, I confess, I was not that blissful about going out to the theatre for yet another boring three hours of 2-dimensional theatre. Well, I could not have been more wrong! No longer the old fashioned sing and speak of the operetta world but a beautifully integrated version right for audiences of all ages to understand and enjoy the comedic moments. Bravo, Light Opera Works! You made it work!
From the on stage company to the design team, everything worked and once melded together, proved to be an exceptionally rewarding afternoon of three-dimensional musical theater.
The performance began with Musical Director and Conductor Roger L. Bingaman’s expert command of the very large orchestra. One could hear the champagne bubbles of the score before the curtain rose. Those first few staccato sounds of the strings told the audience that a treat was in store. Oh!— how correct they were! Rudy Hogenmiller, Light Opera Works’ Artistic Director, was stage director and choreographer and had his large, good looking company equally under his command. There were no rough spots or cameos, just a beautifully fluid direction of a 29-member cast. The entire company needs to be applauded for their voices, acting abilities, dancing talents and the ability to meld into one.
From the very first moment, when handsome Tobias Wright stepped on the stage in the role of Alfred, the afternoon was set. His beautiful tenor voice rang throughout the 1,000-seat Cahn Auditorium with purity, power so often lacking in today’s musical theatre. His diction was spot on and he sang in Act III in several different languages with perfect diction. Alicia Berneche as Rosalinda returns to the Light Opera Works’ stage in yet another role showing off the considerable talent of her singing, interpretation and comedic talents. She has been a favorite of mine since Bitter Sweet and The Music Man, showing off her skills at falling in love each and every night on cue.
Michael Cavilieri – sorely missed on the LOW stage— sang the role of Gabriel Eisenstein, a narcissist and a philanderer. His voice is well supported and so full, powerful and beautiful that he seemed to be singing even when speaking his lines. He has incredible stage presence and comedic timing, too. Kelly Britt, whom I first saw in Let Me Entertain you: Jule Stynes’s Greatest Hits lights up the stage with her both her acting and singing plus. Also, she is not hard on the eyes. She has a crystal clear soprano voice and much stage presence but never goes over the top.
William Roberts was very funny as Dr. Falke. His name translates to “hawk” in German and is set upon getting revenge on Gabriel Eisenstein for a prank previously played on him. Roberts has a crystal bass voice and filled the auditorium fully.
William Dwyer played Price Orlofsky and was star of the evening. Dwyer is 6’4”, drop dead handsome and can play comic roles with aplomb. I first saw him as the lover Camille de Rosillon in The Merry Widow and then as Freddy in My Fair Lady.
He was the first Freddy to play against type and turned him into a comic role. In the role of Orlofsky, Dwyer was the star of the evening taking this “trouser role” and creating a hysterically funny, lumbering character out of a 2-dimensional role. His dancing, acting and singing were all first class and, as mentioned, has star quality. Tim Kazurinsky played the jailer, Frosch. I have never found the humor in this third act role but Kazurinsky’s natural buffoonish talents turned it into very funny moments of stage business.
DESIGN REIGNS SUPREME………………..
Adam Veness’ Scenic Designs filled the stage with a “jugend stil” unit set , which served all three acts well, gave the audience much to visually enjoy, and spent his budget well all at the same time. His arches became a ballroom and then a jail house, a challenge for any designer. Mr. Veness has come a long way and his designs serve Light Opera Works and their style of musical theatre well.
Mr. Vaness’ sets were lighted by evergreen Lighting Designer Andrew H. Meyers and together they melded with the action of the story: light, effervescent and champagne bubbles. Costumes were by Jana Anderson.
Katie Beeks was Production Manager keeping a very large show under her professional grip and selecting some of the most appropriate furniture I have ever seen on the Light Opera Works stage—perfect in all ways. Shannon Rourke is Stage Manager and Bridget McDonough is the company’s General Manager.
IT IS ALL IN THE WORDS……………
This version is adapted by Quade Winter and makes a 2-dimensional 100-year-old operetta contemporary. The libretto now is a risqué, current and entertaining. I did not find a single moment of down-time here. Bravo to Light Opera Works for selecting Mr. Winter to do this adaptation of Carl Heffner and Richard Genee’s original work. I understood every spoken and sung word because the performers enunciated and crossed the “t”s…such a pleasant experience.
Speaking of words, Light Opera Works will become Music Theatre Works on January 2, 2017 after a 36-year history. As a resident company founded by Ms. McDonough among others, maximum scholarship has been employed to preserve the original vocal and orchestral material as well as the spirit of the original text. Audiences know that they will experience repertoire often unavailable on the stages of commercial theatres and opera houses in modern productions with professional artists and full orchestras.
Budgets are a challenge today and having had much experience in theatrical budgeting, I can easily see where money has been spent or saved and Light Opera Works works!
Now, where is that waiter with the champagne bottle?
Wednesday, December 28 at 2pm
Thursday, December 29 at 8pm
Friday, December 30 at 8pm
Saturday, December 31 (New Year’s Eve) at 8pm
Sunday, January 1, 2017 at 2pm
Performances at the Auditorium Theatre
50 East Congress Parkway