Folks Operetta Presents THE CSÁRDÁS PRINCESS Review – Lost Kálmán Operetta

Folks Operetta CSARDAS PRINCESS
(left to right) Brian Mengler, Josh Hills, Jonathan Zeng, Nick Cuellar, Athena Kopulos, Emma Sorenson and Alfredo Jimenez Photo courtesy of Folks Operetta

Famed author P.G. Wodehouse co-authored (with Guy Bolton) the book for a failed Broadway musical called The Riviera Girl on the eve of World War I???

And who knew that the music by Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán in this operetta is so absolutely melodious and catchy??

First in Folks Operetta Reclaimed Voices Series

Folks Operetta is now staging this fascinating 3-act operetta version named THE CSÁRDÁS PRINCESS —the first in their Reclaimed Voices Series— in the Belmont Theatre District’s Stage 773 theater.

This is a story of rich boy (Edwin Weylersheim, played by tenor Jonathan Zeng) loves poor girl (Sylva Varescu, played by soprano Katherine Peterson) against the class conscious parents’ wishes.  In this case it’s not just any old poor girl, but one of the wealthy scion’s best buddies since childhood.  They’re grown up now, and she is about to leave her job working in his family’s factory to make her name as a cabaret singer.  He, on the other hand, is engaged to their third childhood pal (Stasi, played by mezzo soprano Emma Sorenson).

There’s a lot of misunderstood hearts coming apart, together, apart, and together cycling in this story line.  It’s no surprise that love conquers all in the end.  In fact, it might send one into apoplectic shock if that weren’t the plot turn after listening to so many of the lilting Kálmán waltz tunes that the Program notes explain helped keep this operetta popular in Europe through the decades.

Klezmer Spice

In Act I though, which is staged in the courtyard outside the Weylersheim factory, the waltz beats are upstaged, at least for this writer, by rhythms and clarinet sirens that sound like Emmerich Kálmán used a heavy Klezmer spicing as he cooked his score. One might think of it as a bread crumb trail tracing musical theater and this operetta in specific back to Yiddish Theater traditions.

Folks Operetta CSARDAS PRINCESS
(left to right) Jonathan Zeng, Emma Sorenson, Katherine Petersen,William Roberts Photo courtesy of Folks Operetta

It may come as a surprise to read in the program notes that Emmerich Kálmán tried his hand at Hollywood film scores but never could make it work.  This easy-to-digest music sure sounds like a Hollywood fit!  If anything, the colorful costumes and wigs might trigger a feeling similar to the nagging dissonance lovers of oldie movies experience when they see such films colorized.

If there is one cast member that especially feels like he stepped right out of such a celluloid treasure it is, for this writer, charmer bass baritone William Roberts as Boni.  He plays a rake who rivets the audience with song, dance, spot on comic timing, and a very expressive raised eyebrow here and there. Casting Roberts in this role seems as perfect as can be, while other casting choices and voice talents- at least early in the run—seemed a bit more uneven.  You too may find yourself longing to hear soprano Katherine Peterson and mezzo Soprano Emma Sorensen get to sing again, accompanying the similarly strong performance by the entire 21 member orchestra. Their voices and the orchestra’s performances are as soothing as the score.  Similarly, dance enthusiasts might find themselves eagerly awaiting the standout and lithe moves by triple threats Nick Cuellar and Joshua Hills, whose stage presence belies the relatively minor roles that they play.

One heads up might be in order for those who usually find anachronistic updates to librettos and book unnerving.  Hersh Glagov and Gerald Frantzen have translated an earlier German version of this operetta by Leo Stein and Bela Jenbech, with insertion of modern references used also a way to update reference points and cut the story down a bit to size.  Indeed, it does feel a bit long by curtain close.  You too might get a bit of whiplash when the lyrics floating to you include references to ISIS. Relax--- by the time it gets to noting Stormy Daniels you’ll find yourself giving it all a good belly laugh.

RECOMMENDED

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Cast: Robert Morrissey, Rosalind Hurwitz, Jonathan Zeng, Emma Sorenson, William Roberts, Bill Chamberlain, Athena Kopulos, Alexandra Kassouf, Katherine Peterson, Laura Martino, Claire Lillig, Michael Rawls, Dennis Kalup, Nick Cuellar and Omar Mulero.

Production team: Mark Taylor, conductor; Gerald Frantzen, director; Eric Luchen, set designer; Erik Barry, lighting director; Patti Roeder, costumer designer and Josh Prisching, technical director.

When:

Thru July 22

Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.

 

Where:

Stage 773
1225 West Belmont
Chicago

 

Tickets:

$40 (Discounts for seniors and students.)

For tickets and more information about Folks Operetta’s Reclaimed Voices Project visit the Folks Operetta website.

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