Tag: Jennie Sophia
The Sound of Music
Written by Richard Rodgers (music)
Is ‘Brigadoon’ really that good? You bet your bagpipes!
|Light Opera Works presents|
|Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Rudy Hogenmiller
at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston (map)
through June 12 | tickets: $32-$92 | more info
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer
The plaid kilts are in full swirl, the tamoshanters twirling, the “rs” rolling, and the heather in full bloom in Rudy Hogenmiller’s ravishing revival of Lerner and Loewe’s early and evergreen hit. A justified hit in 1947, Brigadoon artfully confronted post-war doubts about whether progress was possible: The legend of Brigadoon–a miraculous Scottish village that escapes the contagion of any century by skipping 100 years with each "day"–remains a powerful fantasy. Will jaded Gothamite Tommy Allbright escape an overwrought era by renouncing New York and his manipulative fiancée for the lovely lassie Fiona who dallies in the merry meadows beyond the heath? You bet your bagpipes.
If the dream isn’t potent enough, Frederick Loewe provides his soft-focus persuasion–the buoyant "Almost Like Being in Love," the almost folkloric "Come to Me, Bend to Me," the enchanting “Heather on the Hill,” and the melting melody of "Waitin’ For My Dearie." As the cross-century lovers, Robert Hunt and Jennie Sophia really do make beautiful music together. (The singing overall creates two of Light Opera Works’ finest hours.) Given Lowe’s score as much as Lerner’s deft dialogue, their cross-century courtship seems equally factual and fairy tale.
Playing the village Romeo who goes home with Bonnie Jean, eager Brandon Moorhead gamely tears into the Highland flings, Scottish reels and sword dances that embellish Agnes DeMille’s original dances (crisply preserved by director Hogenmiller with zealous accuracy). Indeed, this could be Light Opera Works’ most danced production, with everything but a dream ballet discharging all the energy the townsfolk must release after a century of unintended slumber). Roger L. Bingaman’s superb orchestra capture every nuance of one of Broadway’s unsurpassable scores, a particular blessing when a company like Court Theatre thinks it can reduce Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess to a 5-piece band.
Bringing a rhapsodic myth down to earth are two ribald characters: As Tommy’s cynical companion, a deliciously dry Clay Sanderson delivers a cutting running commentary on the mushier events around him: His deadpan deflations helpfully undercut the tremendous sentimentality of the story and songs. Playing Brigadoon’s official bad girl, Maggie Portman has contagious fun with Meg’s patter songs "The Love of My Life" and "My Mother’s Weddin’ Day." Portman’s superb diction delivers every hilarious line of Lerner’s always sprightly, inventive lyrics. Most remarkable, the Scottish accents convince or, at least, don’t confuse.
Kudos also to Ricky Lurie’s completely convincing Scottish/folk/18th century costumes, accurate to the occasion and even to the clan. Nick Mozak’s simple set, a glen with a mountain backdrop that efficiently allows the town to materialize from the mists, is playfully lit by Charles Jolls – the village fair or the girls’ dance to “Come to Me” resemble one of Watteau’s fetes champetres. You can’t wait another 100 years to see this too-transient “Brigadoon,” a dream musical to utterly entrance the summer of 2011.
Light Opera Works’ Brigadoon continues at Cahn Auditorium (600 Emerson, Evanston – map) through June 12th, with performances Wednesday and Sunday at 2pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $32-$92 (half-off for ages 21 and younger), and can be purchased by phone (847-869-6300), or order 24 hours a day at www.lightoperaworks.com.
The Taming of Cole Porter
|Circle Theatre presents|
|Kiss Me, Kate|
|Written by Cole Porter and Bella Spewack
Directed by Bob Knuth
at Circle Theatre, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
through Jan 30 | tickets: $22-$26 | more info
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer
What you want with this musical revival is to hear a giant click, the sound of everything going right in Circle Theatre’s hoped-for perfect revival of Cole Porter’s musical-within-a-musical. For director and set designer Bob Knuth what’s already perfect is a sparkling script depicting the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of temperamental thespians. Modeled on the ever-excitable thespian duo of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne (a fairy tale marriage in every way), hellion Lili and egomaniac Fred enact a life-imitates-art parallel to the quarreling lovers they croon in a Baltimore performance of “The Taming of the Shrew.” More than before, relocated to Oak Park, Circle Theatre now has a stage wide enough to embrace all of Kevin Bellie’s cinemascopic dance routines, which in their previous Forest Park digs five blocks west on Madison Street threatened to burst at the seams.
If a spinoff can improve on its source, this toxically witty 1948 gem, which restored Cole Porter to Broadway glory after a disappointing ten-year dry spell, betters the Bard. Both a hymn to the neuroses that nurture showbiz eccentricities and extremes, it’s also a witty sendup of the perils that follow when narcissistic Broadway stars perform in private as much as under the lights. For these stagestruck souls the sound of no one applauding during their domestic quarrels must be maddening. Never has a show, backstage and centerstage, had more reason to go on.
Crafting many moments to the max, Knuth transforms Porter’s gift into a promising assemblage of perfectly timed verbal and physical comedy, sometimes superior singing, contagious dancing, dazzling costumes, period-perfect wigs, and serviceable sets. But the hard work of the 23 eager-beaver performers is critically undermined by Carolyn Brady Riley’s heavy-handed musical direction: The culprit here is the (minimal for Cole Porter) four-person band who perversely seem to make up for their small number by playing too loud throughout (a vice that’s also afflicted past Circle Theatre shows). Accompaniment does not mean overkill. No one wants these singers to use mikes but on opening night they were more than challenged to sing and speak out these brilliant Porter lyrics and, because the orchestra wouldn’t let them, a lot of laughs died along with the words. Adding mikes would only escalate the screamfest. The solution is the taming of this band.
Everything hinges on the chemistry between the tamer and the shrew: Jennie Sophia’s Lili (who reminds us of the young Patti Lupone) isn’t just the spitfire diva who craves to be domesticated; she delivers the dreamer (“So in Love”), desperate for the right excuse to stop fighting love. Equally commanding as Petruchio or his hammy self, Andy Baldeschwiler’s Fred never drops a joke in his patter numbers (“Where Is The Life That Late I Led?”), except when the orchestra drowns him out. At least he gets to register the sheer joy of singing “Wunderbar” every night. But, given a hostile accompaniment, he strains more than he should to unevenly deliver songs that should sound as effortless as they were composed 62 years ago.
Rachel Quinn and Wes Drummond couldn’t be sweeter second bananas, as venal Lois Lane and trusting Bill Calhoun wonder “Why Can’t You Behave?” A crowd-pleasing, vaudevillian sensation, John Roeder and Tommy Bullington are the vaudevillian gangsters whose “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is as funny as you can get without asphyxiating an audience on their own laughs.
But the signature triumph belongs to the hard-hoofing, all-crooning chorus, whose Lindy-hopping, jitterbugging dances look totally authentic and still seem improvised on the spot. If only the orchestra could have brought out all the sensuous sounds that Porter intended for songs that can be treasured and never bettered.