REVIEW: Lyric Opera’s “The Merry Widow”

 Shopping around for a second husband can be so much fun!

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The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents:

The Merry Widow

Libretto by Viktor León and Leon Stein
Based on Henri Meilhac’s comedy “L’attache’ d’ambassade”
English lyrics and dialogue by Sheldon Harnick
Conducted by Emmanuel Villaume
Stage directed by Gary Griffin
Thru January 16th 

Review by Katy Walsh

mw9 Boy loves girl. Family won’t let him marry her because she’s penniless. She marries another and becomes a wealthy widow. Boy still loves girl. Now, his country wants him to  marry her because she has 20 million francs. Girl loves boy but fears he loves her for her money. Add in a cheating wife, French lover, overbearing Baron and dancing girls and the results are the Lyric Opera of Chicago presents The Merry Widow. Originally produced in German in 1905, The Merry Widow is sung in English as an operetta in three acts.

Arguably, an operetta basically stands for “opera lite.” Tastes great, less filling. With its origins in the 1800’s, an operetta introduced a less dramatic version of opera to audiences. Utilizing comedy, simpler plots and happier tunes, the operetta became the precursor to contemporary musicals. For diehard opera fans, an operetta is like drinking Miller Lite when you prefer a Guinness. For opera newbies, an operetta is like sipping your first beer to acquire a taste for hops. For all, The Merry Widow is a lively romantic comedy presented with all the grandeur and majesty as is the Lyric Opera hallmark.

 

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Unlike most traditional operas, The Merry Widow has segments of spoken dialogue, dancing sequences and informal familiarity. Breaking the fourth wall, Roger Honeywell (Count Danilo Danilovich) emphasizes a joke by guffawing with the audience. Honeywell, along with Jeff Dumas (Njegus) and Dale Travis (Baron Mirko Zeta), set the playful mood with physical comedy. A particularly fun musical dance number, “Every Woman,” has several of the male cast members commiserating on how difficult women are. Later, it’s the ladies’ turn with dance hall girls performing the Can-Can, a line dance complete with pulled up skirts and leg shaking. Elizabeth Futral (Hanna Glawari) has the vibrant presence to carry the main title The Merry Widow. Although she captivates the audience with her soprano precision, there are moments for her and Honeywell where vocal subtlety is overwhelmed by the orchestra.

From the moment the curtain rises, the audience is treated to spectacular sets (Daniel Ostling). The first act is built around a magnificent staircase, several stories high. Later the scene at Maxim’s features a moving stage on stage within a bi-level dance hall. The costumes (David Burke and Mara Blumenfeld) range from early 1900 elegant aristocrat to vibrant gawdy Can-Can dancer. Visually appealing and lighthearted amusing, this production shows how much fun shopping around for a second husband can be.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

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Drury Lane Oakbrook announces 2010 Season

Drury Lane Oakbrook announces 2010 Season

Ragtime
directed by Rachel Rockwell
March 24 – May 23 (previews begin March 18)

A nostalgic and powerful portrait of life in turn of the century America , Ragtime is based on E.L. Doctorow’s distinguished novel.  The musical intertwines the stories of a Harlem musician, a wealthy New York family and a Latvian Jewish immigrant. Ragtime poignantly explores history’s timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair, and love and hate.  Featuring a Tony Award winning book by Terrence McNally, and a Tony Award-winning score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Ragtime combines diverse fictional characters with several famous figures of the era to create a stirring musical portrayal of turn-of-the 20th century America.

Sugar
directed by Jim Corti
June 9 – August 1 (previews begin June 3)

Sugar originally debuted as the widely known film “Some Like it Hot, starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and the blonde goddess, Marilyn Monroe. The film then was transformed into the musical Sugar, which opened at the Majestic Theater in 1972, running for 505 performances and earning four Tony Award nominations. In this side-splitting musical, two struggling musicians witness what appears to be the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and try to find a way out of the city under the threat of the mob. Unfortunately, they are in no position to finance such a move. Desperate times call for desperate measure and the pair take on the only job available—as an all-female band heading to Florida . The cross-dressing frauds board a train and ride right into a world of trouble.

Hot Mikado
directed by David H. Bell
August 18 – October 3 (previews begin August 12)

Since its opening, thousands of audiences have enjoyed the hilarious Broadway musical Hot Mikado, which is an adaptation of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan tale, The Mikado set in the 1940s. This production will be directed by the writer of the book and lyrics himself, multi-Jeff Award winner and Helen Hayes Award winner David H. Bell.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
directed by Bill Jenkins
October 20 – December 19 (previews begin October 14)

Set in Oregon in 1850, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is the story of Adam Pontipee, a man who simply goes to town looking for a bride. He finds Milly working in a restaurant and convinces her to marry him. Milly’s ecstasy quickly sours when she finds she is to also take care of Adam’s six unkempt, burly brothers. Deciding to make the marriage work, Milly sets a plan into motion to marry off the brothers, including teaching them how to court women. This plan turns out to be much more difficult than originally anticipated and leads to a series of madcap events.  A delightfully funny love story, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers received a Tony Award for Best Original Score and began its life as a beloved 1954 MGM movie musical that has only improved in its stage adaptation.

Spamalot
directed by William Osetek
January 6, 2011 – March 13, 2011 (previews begin December 31)

With a book and lyrics by Eric Idle and an entirely new score created by Idle and John Du Prez, Spamalot will be directed by Drury Lane Oakbrook’s Artistic Director William Osetek.  Osetek has directed numerous productions at Drury Lane Oakbrook including the annual holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol.  The multi-Tony Award winning Spamalot debuted on Broadway in 2005 and recently made its final appearance after 1,574 hysterical performances. Telling the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail, Spamalot features a chorus line of dancing divas and knights, flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and one legless knight.


The remainder of Drury Lane Oakbrook’s 2009 season features the Tony Award-winning Cabaret, directed by Jim Corti, previewing August 13, opening August 19 and running through October 11. The delightful Jazz Age musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, directed by Artistic Director William Osetek, previews October 22, opens October 28 and runs through December 20, and the beloved musical Funny Girl, directed by Gary Griffin, previews December 31, opens January 6 and runs through March 7, 2010.

All of Drury Lane Oakbrook shows are produced by Kyle DeSantis, Drew DeSantis and Jason Van Lente; presented by William Osetek, Artistic Director and Gary Griffin, Associate Producer

“The Color Purple” Returns to Chicago – starring Fantasia

Oprah Winfrey presents

Color_Purple_Fantasia

 

STARRING FANTASIA

FOR TWO WEEKS ONLY!

SEPTEMBER 2 – 13, 2009

The Arie Crown Theater welcomes the soulful singing sensation of Fantasia as she reprises her critically acclaimed role of “Celie” in the smash hit musical.

The producers of THE COLOR PURPLE are proud to announce that American Idol Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino will reprise her starring role of Celie for the Chicago engagementReturning to its debut home of Chicago , THE COLOR PURPLE will make its home at The Arie Crown Theater for two weeks, September 2 –13, 2009

Tickets for performances go on sale May 1 at 10 a.m. and range in price from $49.50 – $85. Tickets are available at the Arie Crown Theater Box Office ( 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive ), online at ticketmaster.com, charge-by-phone at (800) 745-3000 and at all Ticketmaster outlets.  Groups of 20 or more should call (312) 791-6320.

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Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Sun-Times)

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 Hedy Weiss, theater-critic extraordinaire for the Chicago Sun-Times, has put together an excellent list of her 10 favorite plays of 2008.  Along with the list, Hedy notes the wonderful year Chicago theater has had on the national stage:

…this was the year that Steppenwolf Theatre picked up five Tony Awards for its Chicago-bred Broadway production of Tracy Letts‘ “August: Osage County” before the cast crossed the pond to remount the show at London’s National Theatre, and when the Chicago Shakespeare Theater was feted with the “Best Regional Theater” Tony.

Continuing:

But that was just the beginning. Next Theatre‘s production of the new musical “Adding Machine,” was hailed in its Off Broadway incarnation, with director David Cromer racking up plaudits for his work on that show, as well as for his revelatory revivals of “Our Town” (at the Hypocrites) and “Picnic” (at Writers’ Theatre). Profiles championed the work of incendiary playwright Neil LaBute to grand effect. Remy Bumppo earned laughs with its tale of financial chicanery in a revival of an Edwardian classic, “The Voysey Inheritance.” And director Sean Graney experimented boldy with productions of “The Threepenny Opera” and Marlowe‘s “Edward II.”

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Now here are Hedy Weiss’s favorite productions in 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); performances: Malcolm Durning, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Weiss comments: Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, the play will soon move to New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
 
     
3. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
4. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director)
 
     
5. Requiem for a Heavyweight  (Shattered Globe)
by Rod Serling
Standouts: Lou Contey (director)
 
     
6. Amadeus  (Chicago Shakespeare)
by Peter Schaffer
Standouts: Gary Griffin (director), Daniel Ostling (set designer); performances: Robert Sella, Robbi Collier Sublett, Elizabeth Ledo, Lance Baker
 
     
7. As You Like It  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: William Brown (director), Performance: Larry Yando
 
     
8. Drowsy Chaperone  (Cadillac Palace Theater)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Casey Nicholaw (director)
 
     
9. Around the World in 80 Days  (Lookingglass)
Standouts: Laura Eason (adaptor/director); Performances: Philip R. Smith, Kevin Douglas, Joe Dempsey, Ravi Batista, Anish Jethmalani, Ericka Ratcliff, Nick Sandys and Rom Barkhordar
 
     
10. Columbinus  (Raven Theatre)
by Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli
Standouts: Greg Kolack (director); Performances: Matthew Klingler and Jamie Abelson
 

To see the Hedy Weiss’s complete description and thoughts on her favorite plays, click here.