So what does the Opera Nut do on November 1, 2013, when faced with a two-week vacation after seeing 6 operas (and reviewing 4 of them) in October?
Does he get caught up on all the things that didn’t get done that month? No. Does he get a head start on his income tax? No. Does he read a good book? No. He goes to see a light-hearted musical to relax – but not to review it. . . . And then reviews it!
In my sweet little Alice blue gown,
When I first wandered down into town,
I was so proud inside,
As I felt every eye,
And in every shop window I primped, passing by.
A new manner of fashion I’d found,
And the world seemed to smile all around.
‘Til it wilted, I wore it,
I’ll always adore it,
My sweet little Alice blue gown!
Why did I have to write this review of a musical that I’d never heard of before, by a company I’d never heard of before? Because Irene is a perfect gem of a musical. The plot is a predictable Cinderella story – shop-girl crashes high society and finds true love. The music is foot-tapping and sing-able. Indeed, with the words projected on a large screen at the back wall of the stage, I had to resist the temptation to sing-along even if I’d never heard a particular melody before. The singing and acting were both good to excellent.
Irene was, in fact the perfect antidote to my October diet of operas by classic masters –Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini – plus a world-premiere by Picker and a dissonant Shostakovich with surreal cartoons. It had been a wonderful month, but a challenging one. Searching for new insights in the classics and relating the moderns to reality.
So, about this performance. Let’s start with the opera company: Free Range Opera – a strictly volunteer organization with a highly unusual business model. It relies on gifts and donations for all of its expenses and donates the entire gate to another charitable organization – in this case The Career Closet. Their particular forte is finding and restoring early musicals. Judging by Irene, I hope they will prove most successful and that I’ll get a chance to see many future productions in the coming years.
The production focused on the essentials: music, words, and action. The “scenery” consisted of a large white projection screen at the back of the stage. At the beginning of each scene it showed a single picture to illustrate the scene: a veranda, a garden, a Ninth Avenue tenement, etc. As soon as the action started, the picture switched and the screen was used only to display the lyrics of the songs. The only stage furnishings were six chairs, which were unobtrusively moved on and off stage by the actors. The entire list of props: one handkerchief, two jewelry cases, and in the final party scene several cocktail glasses and wine bottles.
Simplicity is the word for the entire production. Costumes were simple and appropriate. Choreography was mostly ballroom dancing. Except for Irene and her two friends, there were no costume changes. The “orchestra” was a single piano in a back corner of the stage.
It wasn’t Grand opera, but it could be called Light opera – in fact the lady seated next to me said it reminded her of Gilbert & Sullivan. And it was delightful.
It takes until the final curtain, of course, but eventually Irene finds Donald (Mr. Right) and they live happily ever after.
It was so delightful that I went to see it again at the Sunday Matinee. If you live anywhere near the San Francisco Bay area, and are reading this on or before November 9, you’ve got one last chance to experience the fun of Irene. The final performance is in Walnut Creek:
Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek
925-943-7469 • lesherartscenter.org
Saturday, November 9 2013, 2pm
I wish I could be there for a third performance, but I’m back to the heavy stuff with HD performances of Tosca on Saturday and Tristan & Isolde on Sunday.
Music by Harry Tierney
Lyrics by Joseph McCarthy
Libretto by James Montgomery
New performing edition by Neil Midkiff & Marc Kenig
Stage direction by Marc Kenig, assisted by Mark Blattel
Music direction and Piano accompaniment by Neil Midkiff
Choreography by Kimber Rudo, Mark Blattel, and Jeff Kellem
Cast of Characters in photo below
|L to R||Character||Description||Performer|
|F1||Mrs. Cheston||Helen’s mother||Connie Kleinjans *|
|F2||Eleanor Worth||her young friend||Katherine Chapin|
|F3||Helen Cheston||Irene’s friend||Suzanne Guzzitta|
|F5||Irene O’Dare||a shop girl||Diane Squires|
|F6||Jane Gilmour||Irene’s friend||Ewa Nowicka|
|F7||Mrs. Marshall||social set leader||Carol Ann Parker|
|F9||Mrs. O’Dare||Irene’s mother||Catherine Sheldon|
|M01||Madame Lucy||a dress designer||Tom Caldecott|
|M03||Bob Harrison||Donald’s friend||Mark Blattel|
|M05||Larry Hadley||a friend (?) of Donald||Carmello Tringali|
|M06||J. P. Beaudon||a social climber||Daniel Galpin|
|M08||Donald Marshall||her young son||Andrew Solovay|
|M09||Clarkson||his manservant||Mark Baushke *|
|M10||Stage Director||Marc Kenig|
* Also part of the Ensemble
Free Range Opera Theatre, Inc.
All photos by Steve Stubbs.
This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on November 7, 2013.