Friday November 24th 2017

“Operetta’s Greatest Hits”

Those of us who have experienced the works of Light Opera Works, know the majesty of the productions they bring to their stages. While they do not have the funding that the downtown and larger regional theaters have, they have creative minds and a lot of talent, many hoping for the chance to be seen by the public. Their forte is the Operetta and musicals that come very close to qualifying as such, but they do many of the big scale musicals each year at the Cahn Auditorium, a stunning theater located on the campus of Northwestern University. Often, people become confused by this company’s name- Light Opera Works- thinking, “oh, no! Not one of those boring operas”. But this is never the case when it comes to the work of this marvelously talented troupe. They just finished a spectacular “man Of LaMancha” and this winter’s production will be “Oliver” ( they also did a wonderful “Camelot” earlier in the year). As you can see, these are not “opera” by any means.

That is the problem! People do not understand just what this company is all about. In their “mission statement” they say that their mission is to ” present musical theater from a variety of world traditions”. This is what they do and to perfection. The Opera is the telling of a story with music as an integral part. The Operetta, a little lighter themed, mostly in English with some actual words spoken. The operetta slowly became the musical that we are used to, but in most cases, the story took on more importance and then the lyrics had to blend in with the story and the music. As time went on, we can witness another major movement as the book became lesser in many modern day “musicals”. Andrew Lloyd Webber had a lot to do with this as shows like “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Evita”,Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor dream coat” and many others made the scene and changed the look of the Musical Theater. We now have a better mixture of musicals on stage.

Back to “Operetta’s Greatest Hits” with a cast of six performers and four musicians who bring us some rather sterling examples of the Operetta with music from Vienna, Paris, London and Broadway. In fact, many of the songs heard are ones that are familiar, but we are not always sure of where it came from. Now we know! Directed/staged by Rudy Hogenmiller in a chamber type setting in their new facility ( smaller production venue) at Nichols Concert Hall located in Evanston at 1490 Chicago Avenue, just one block south of Davis Street, a charming setting ( former church) with padded pew seating, high cathedral ceilings, and all in all a comfortable space for this type of concert. They will, in time, make adjustments for the sound and the body mikes competing with the stage mikes, but I had no problem hearing every glorious word the performers sang. I am sure that Hogenmiller and the musical director Marta Johnson, who along with her musicains is fully dressed and part o fthe evening, selected the musical choices in order to tell some o fthe story about the growth of the Operetta, and I am hopeful that when they do the next segment, they will look at adding some of the modern poets/writers who can create the same type of feeling and mood ( see my review of CST, “Sunday in he Park with George”, where Sondheim shows himself to be right up there with these composers) and perhaps add just a little touch of the intertwining of the musical types.

This production has the music of Offenbach,Kalman ( “Play Gypsy ” ), Strauss ( “Love, Hear Me Callin”), a medley from “The Merry Widow”, Gilbert and Sullivan” ( another medley), Friml’s “Indian Love Call” and much more. Two hours of beautiful songs and arias, filled with fun and romance. All in all, a delightful evening of staged music as an opera/operetta lover would want to hear these glorious Compositions. Hogenmiller uses some of his regulars who have thrilled many a mainstage production audience:Alicia Berneche, Natalie Ford, James Rank,George Andrew Wolff, Colette Todd ( who just finished her role as Aldonza in “Man Of La Mancha” and  Matthew Giebel , who many might recall in “Pirates of Penzance. Some solid veterans and two who have only one LOW show on their resume, but many more will follow to be sure.

All six of these peromers have great audience appeal, solid people skill and vocal ranges that are sheer delight to the ears. They are also pleasing to look at as they banter with each other an dthe musicans. HeatherBoehm on the violin gets into the act herself as we listen to her do “Play Gypsy” to the vocal done by  James Rank- what fun for both of them along with us. George does a great comic bit with  “Donkey Serenade” and the exciting Colette with “Lover Come Back To Me”. This is a two act, two hour evening of what we could call “a different type of easy listening”. An evening that allows you to relax, take the hand of the date you brought and just watch and listen to some history brought to life by the cast of “Operetta’s Greatest Hits”. The production will continue through October 14th ( limited runs are the norm for this troupe. Perhaps one day that will change so that more Chicago area residents can partake of the joy they bring to audiences. Performancs are as follows:

Saturday, October 6th and 13th at 2 and 8 p.m.

Sundays,October 7th and 14th at 2 p.m.

Friday,October 12th at 8 p.m.

Wednesday,October 10th at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $30- $60 and are available by calling 847-5360 or online at www.LightOperaWorks.com

Ages 21 and under, 50% off ticket prices

to learn more, visit my HOME page, click on theatreinchicago, go to review round-up and click on “operetta”

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