Irene Review – Revival of the 1919 hit Musical

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? 

Director Marc Kenig introduces “Irene”

Director Marc Kenig introduces “Irene”

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!

Irene (Diane Squires) sings the hit song “Alice-Blue Gown”; Donald (Andrew Solovay) watches with approval

Irene (Diane Squires) sings the hit song “Alice-Blue Gown”; Donald (Andrew Solovay) watches with approval

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!

Eleanor and “the girls” (June Melchior, Katherine Chapin (Eleanor), Connie Kleinjans, and Kathy Kriese) sing about genealogy as a hobby; Will Todd, Barry Hayes, Mark Baushke, and Patrick Shapiro are the Professors of Genealogy

Eleanor and “the girls” (June Melchior, Katherine Chapin (Eleanor), Connie Kleinjans, and Kathy Kriese) sing about genealogy as a hobby; Will Todd, Barry Hayes, Mark Baushke, and Patrick Shapiro are the Professors of Genealogy

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.

Larry (Carmello Tringali) tries to hit on Irene - the lady is not interested

Larry (Carmello Tringali) tries to hit on Irene – the lady is not interested

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.

Donald Marshall (Andrew Solovay) and his friend Bob Harrison (Mark Blatted) discuss their plan to find models for Bob’s friend, dress designer Madame Lucy

Donald Marshall (Andrew Solovay) and his friend Bob Harrison (Mark Blattel) discuss their plan to find models for Bob’s friend, dress designer Madame Lucy

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.

(C): Madame Lucy (Tom Caldecott) teaches Irene’s two friends (L to R): Jane Gilmour (Ewa Nowicka) and Helen Cheston (Suzanne Guzzitta) some rudiments of Society modeling

(C): Madame Lucy (Tom Caldecott) teaches Irene’s two friends (L to R): Jane Gilmour (Ewa Nowicka) and Helen Cheston (Suzanne Guzzitta) some rudiments of Society modeling

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.

(L – R): Jane, Helen, Madame Lucy, Donald’s mother Mrs. Marshall (Carol Ann Parker) – in a state of shock that “Madame” is a male – and nouveau-riche snob J. P. Beaudon (Daniel Galpin)

(L – R): Jane, Helen, Madame Lucy, Donald’s mother Mrs. Marshall (Carol Ann Parker) – in a state of shock that “Madame” is a male – and nouveau-riche snob J. P. Beaudon (Daniel Galpin)

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.

Irene receives a marriage proposal from ultra-rich J. P. Beaudon (Mr. Wrong) – he later retracts it when he finds out that she is a shop girl

Irene receives a marriage proposal from ultra-rich J. P. Beaudon (Mr. Wrong) – he later retracts it when he finds out that she is a shop girl

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.

operanut_sig

IRENE
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
F4 Ensemble-F Kathy Kriese
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
F8 Ensemble-F June Melchior
F9 Mrs. O’Dare Irene’s mother Catherine Sheldon
M01 Madame Lucy  a dress designer Tom Caldecott
M02 Ensemble-M Barry Hayes
M03 Bob Harrison Donald’s friend Mark Blattel
M04 Piano Neil Midkiff
M05 Larry Hadley a friend (?) of Donald Carmello Tringali
M06 J. P. Beaudon a social climber Daniel Galpin
M07 Ensemble-M Patrick Shapiro
M08 Donald Marshall her young son Andrew Solovay
M09 Clarkson his manservant Mark Baushke *
M10 Stage Director Marc Kenig
M11 Ensemble-M Will Todd

* Also part of the Ensemble

Post-performance group photo after the Sunday performance

Post-performance group photo after the Sunday performance

Free Range Opera Theatre, Inc.
408-475-1376
freerangeopera.com

All photos by Steve Stubbs.

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on November 7, 2013.

 

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