There are often times where it is difficult to do a rating for a production. The reason that this happens is when there is a play that is not a fan favorite and despite the solid talent and production values, is hard to strongly suggest people spend their entertainment dollars on. Over the years, I have found the Light Opera Works has struggled with whether they should do musicals, musical comedies, or as their name implies, Light Operas and Operettas. They do wonderful work, using some equity performers and many who are hoping one day to become stage performers “full-time”(if this can really be said for actors). Their current production is “The Merry Widow” directed by Rudy Hogenmiller, who as always, does a solid interpretation in his presentation, but this is a difficult show to do.
This Franz Lehar “classic” operetta was in fact Mr Hogenmiller’s first assignment back in 2005 and now almost ten years later, he felt ready to conquer it again, with a stronger result. This he has done. With a wonderful set (Adam Veness) that has three district settings that are as rich as any Broadway production, lighting (Andrew H. Myers) and sound (Aaron Quick) that make viewing and hearing this story easy on the audience and fabulous costumes (Jesus Perez and Jane Debondt) one cannot help but feel the professionalism of this production.
What makes it even stronger is the full orchestra conducted by Nyela Basney. Hearing Lehar’s music played by a full orchestra is worth the trip to Evanston alone, but add to that the talent that Hogenmiller puts on the stage and you see why this company fills the seats at The Cahn Auditorium every year. The “Widow” is played by the lovely Stacey Tappan and Chicago favorite Larry Adams plays the “playboy” Count Danilo Danilovitch. These are the same people that played these roles back in the early edition of the show. Both constant performers and both appearing to be having fun with their parts, as they should, this time around.
This is a fun story about a wealthy widow and the fear that she will marry and leave Paris, leaving with her wealth, which would cause the community to be bankrupt. Baron Zeta feels the need to captivate the widow and have her marry Danillo. As we learn, these two have history, great history in their youth, but it appears that they dislike each other, or do they fear their past history might be not all they had thought it to be?the Baron (deftly handled by Alex Honzen) is a married man and his wife, Valencienne ( the lovely Sarah Wasserman), who it turns out is having a fling with Camille (William Dwyer, who has the acting and character down to a tee, but might want to work on his upper range). The Baron thinks he is a bit odd, as he loves the Opera and ballet, so he is not afraid of losing his wife to such a man.
In fact, the story is filled with little mysteries about romance and who is having a tryst with who. There is a repeated comment about a love note written on a fan, in English (“the language of love”) that keeps being brought up. Funny the first three times, but after the fifth, not so!. There are some wonderful songs in the score- “The Merry Widow Waltz”, “Vilia”, “Girls,Girls, Girls” and “maxims” , which is where the third act takes place. Yes this is a three act play with TWO intermissions and a total running time of just under three hours. It moves quickly though and never feels slow or boring. There is a great deal of dance (Hogenmiller did the choreography as well and the “Can-Can” is pretty darn realistic”. Brian Rooney as the comic touch with his interpretation of Njegus, a clerk at the aid of the Baron.
“The Merry Widow” is filled with innuendos, mistaken identities and mishaps between men and women galore, but is a delightful experience. If more people were interested in this type of production, based on the overall production, this would probably be worthy of an extra star, but since the majority of the theater audiences in the Chicago area prefer musicals and musical comedies over operettas, three is all I can feel comfortable with. That is of course RECOMMENDED.
The big rub with The Light Opera Works productions is that they are only here for a short spell. “The Merry Widow” will ONLY play Through New Year’s Eve with performances as follows:
Friday, 12/26 2 p.m.
Saturday 12/27 8 p.m.
Sunday 12/28 2 p.m.
Wednesday 12/31 8 p.m.
Tickets range from $34- $96 depending on location and performance. Under 21, half price
I suggest 12 and up for this one as it is longer and does have some situations that may cause questions.
To order your chance to view this experience call the box office at 847-920-5360 or visit www.LightOperaWorks.com
The performances are at The Cahn Auditorium located at 600 Emerson Street, on the Northwestern Campus, where Chicago Avenue meets Sheridan Road with parking n the street and in the public garage just two blocks south of the theater.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Merry Widow”.