Music by Johann Strauss, Jr.
Libretto by Karl Haffner, Richard Genée
English adaptation by Quade Winter
Cahn Auditorium, Evanston (map)
thru Jan 1 | tix: $34-$96 | more info
Check for half-price tickets
Light in tone, heavy in talent
|Light Opera Works presents|
Review by John Olson
This is the last production of Light Opera Works under that name. Die Fledermaus closes on January 1 and the very next day Light Opera Works will be known as Music Theater Works. For their first 20 years, the company produced mostly operettas with occasional musicals, but in the early 2000s, their balance shifted more in favor of musicals, which I would presume are more popular and easier to sell. The company says they won’t leave operettas behind – and indeed their first production in 2017 will be Bernstein’s take on the genre, Candide. Still, the name change marks the end of an era. This era’s closing production, Die Fledermaus, as one of their most frequently staged titles (they’ve performed it once a decade since their first season in 1981), is an appropriate closer, although a bittersweet one. This lovely, gorgeously sung, played and designed piece suggests that semi-classical operettas really are the company’s sweet spot. This might be the fault (or virtue, depending how you see it) of their venue, the Cahn Auditorium, as much as anything. While it boasts good acoustics and sight lines, it seems to this viewer to lack the technology for the sort of fast-paced stagecraft we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in musicals. Operettas, on the other hand, are so much more about the music (and the costumes, for that matter), and we’re content to let the performers stand and sing for us.
But this is not the time for harping on LOW’s past musicals or speculating on MTW’s future ones. This is the time to review Die Fledermaus, 2016 edition, and it’s just about a perfect one. Stage Director Rudy Hogenmiller and Music Director Roger L. Bingaman have assembled a dream cast for their 10 principal roles – men with powerful voices and women with lilting ones as they waltz through the score by Johann Strauss. Hogenmiller maintains a pace that is neither rushed nor dragging. He delivers appealing stage pictures with movement that is lively but not gratuitously kinetic, and he captures just the right comic tone with the charmingly silly farce that ties together the delightful melodies. And the sonorous music coming from the 30-piece orchestra greatly adds to the performances.
The story – a comedy of errors contrived by one Dr. Falke (William Roberts) as a retributive prank against his friend Eisenstein (Michael Cavalieri) – concerns a ball held at the Vienna home of a visiting Russian prince (William Dwyer). Falke convinces Eisenstein to sneak away to the party when he should be going to jail to begin serving an eight-day sentence for assaulting a policeman. Knowing Eisenstein is a flirt, Falke leads him to attempt to seduce his own wife, Rosalinda (Alicia Berneche), who appears at the ball masked. There are others at the dance who aren’t supposed to be there – the Eisensteins’ maid, Adele (Kelly Britt), who said she would be visiting a sick aunt – and the jail warden Frank (Russell Hoke), who believes he has already delivered Eisenstein to jail (it was actually Alfred – sung romantically by the debonair Tobias Wright – that Frank arrested). Frank is now posing as a chevalier (knight) to impress Adele, who is pretending to be an actress. Confused? It doesn’t matter. This is about the music and production design, not the literary merits of the piece.
The cast, while uniformly fine, does have two standouts. Britt, as Adele, is stunning. As fine of singer as anyone in the cast, she’s lovely, but with a down-to-earth girl-next-door quality and a keen sense of comic timing. Relatively new to the Chicago area, she should be a catch for any of the local companies doing musical theatre. Less a “discovery,” but no less a catch for this production, is the presence of Saturday Night Live alum and screenwriter Tim Kazurinsky in a non-singing comedic role as the drunken jailer Frosch. Another comedic standout is Dwyer as the young and spoiled Prince Orlofsky.
Adam Veness’s set, with the help of Andrew H. Meyers‘ lighting design, makes a series of arches suggest each of the three settings: the Eisenstein home, Prince Orlofsky’s villa and,of all things, the jail! No expense has been spared for Jana Anderson’s spectacularly detailed 19th Century formal wear – nor in the assembling of Bingaman’s lush 30-piece pit orchestra. Operettas may be the popular musical theatre genre of a previous century, but Hogenmiller and company prove they still have the capacity to entertain.
Die Fledermaus continues through January 1st at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston (map). Tickets are $34-$96, and are available by phone (847-920-5360) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at LightOperaWorks.org. (Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes, includes two 10-minute intermissions)
Photos by Brett Beiner
Tobias Wright (Alfred), Kelly Britt (Adele), Alicia Berneche (Rosalinda), Michael Cavalieri (Eisenstein), Dennis M. Kalup (Dr. Blind), William Roberts (Dr. Falke), Russell Hoke (Frank), Alexis Armstrong (Ida), William Dwyer (Prince Orlofsky), Ryan Van Stan (Ivan), Tim Kazurinsky (Frosch), Emily Barnasch, Stephen Boyer, Caitlin Cavanaugh, Nicole Cooper, Gabriel Di Gennaro, Erik Dohner, Chris Furrer, Sydney Gabbard, Caitlyn Glennon, Brian Healy, Stephen Hobe, Patrick Lynch, John Marshall Jr., Laura Martino, Johanna Moffitt, Michael Pine, Rebekah Rawhouser, Trevor Vanderzee (ensemble).
behind the scenes
Rudy Hogenmiller (stage director), Roger L. Bingaman (conductor, music director), Adam Veness (scenic design, technical director), Jana Anderson (costume design), Andrew H. Meyers (lighting design), Aaron Quick (sound design), Alice Salazar (hair and makeup design), Shannon Rourke (stage manager), Katie Beeks (production manager), Kevin Disch (asst. musical director), Diana J. Brodick (orchestra contractor), Serena Dully (asst. stage manager), Aaron Lorenz (lighting board programmer, master electrician), Simon Robinson (master electrician), Naomi Kibler (lighting board operator), Alon Stotter, Deborah Baxter (spotlight operators), Cory Vincent (sound board operator), Hayden Murray (sound assistant), Alexa Weinzierl (wardrobe), Batuhan Ozturk (asst. costume design), Rachel Stiles (wig assistant), Means of Production (set construction), Brett Beiner (photos)