Wednesday, May 16, 2018

B&B’s Cast, Tech Pass Blithe Spirit Test With Flying Colors!

Cassie Greer, Andrew Beck, and Jessi Walters
Photo by Casey Campbell Photography

By Tina Arth

Bag&Baggage’s 2018-2019 season officially focuses on love, “LOVE. THRILLS. MAGIC. WONDER. CHANGE.”  At The Vault, the Hillsboro theater company’s final production of the current season jumps the gun with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, show that’s just loaded with thrills, magic, wonder, and change (if, courtesy of Coward’s jaundiced view of life, somewhat bereft in the “love” department).  Director Scott Palmer is no stranger to Coward’s style of cheerful cynicism, and is thus perfectly suited to shepherd his cast and crew through a fast-paced telling of this supernatural farce that has been raising spirits (literally and figuratively) on stages around the world ever since its debut in war-torn London during the darkest days of World War II.

In the Bag&Baggage production, the story has been moved to the 1980s. Like the playwright who created him, novelist Charles Condomine is skeptical about psychic phenomena; to learn more about the language and tricks of the trade for his next book, he invites local medium Madame Arkati to give a séance to entertain himself, his wife Ruth, and two friends.  Much to the surprise of all, there are definite supernatural manifestations, and Charles is visited by the ghost of his first wife, Elvira. No one else can see Elvira, and the next morning Ruth writes the whole episode off to Charles’s inebriation until Elvira proves her presence by moving a bowl of flowers around the room. Eager to be rid of her deceased rival, Ruth asks Madame Arkati to get rid Elvira, but the medium is unable to dematerialize the spirit. The story only gets more arcane (and funny) through succeeding acts (there are three, but packed into a relatively short 2½ hours).

Arianne Jacques gets the first laughs as the Condomine’s new maid, Edith, frantically hopping up and down the stairs trying to please her new mistress. She lurks, wide-eyed, as events unfold around her, and sometimes leaves the room only in response to meaningful glares from her employers. Ruth (Cassie Greer) is utterly oblivious to Edith’s confusion, and her complete self-absorption tells us all we need to know about the brittle lady of the house. Greer’s Ruth is coldly, archly uptight, and the performance radiates suppressed rage that explodes nicely when she has finally had enough. Jessi Walters’ Elvira provides a delicious contrast – she may be a ghost, but she’s so flamboyant and mischievous that she actually seems much more colorful and vibrant than the still-living Ruth.

Andrew Beck’s portrayal of Charles Condomine is delightfully effete  – stuck between two wives and passionate about neither. He is bright and witty, but ultimately clueless about how to extricate himself from the drama of married life. When Ruth asks him if he found Elvira more attractive, his perfect, languidly delivered retort? “That’s a very tiresome question, darling. It fully deserves a wrong answer.” Kymberli Colbourne’s Madame Arkati is a stunning reinvention of the character. Instead of a ditzy, fluttering British psychic in brightly flowing clothes, she’s a hilariously energetic, somewhat androgynous American with definite overtones of Foghorn Leghorn, bringing unexpected ferocity and physicality to the role.

Melissa Heller’s costumes are perfect – from Colbourne’s quasi-menswear to the flashing lights on Walters’ gaudy gown - and Tyler Buswell’s scenic design creates a nicely 1980s version of an upper-class British drawng room. However, it’s Jim Rick-White’s lighting and technical effects that move the show from well acted and funny to mind-bending. The show is propelled by a combination of mechanical and electronic effects that capture the real magic of Blithe Spirit, constantly surprising the audience with The Vault’s capabilities in the right hands.

Blithe Spirit tickets will sell out quickly, so fans of Coward’s beautifully crafted, witty farce and Scott Palmer’s theatrical ingenuity should buy tickets soon.


Bag&Baggage’s Blithe Spirit is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro, through May 27th, with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday matinees. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The 100 Dresses

Annika Sadowski, Summer Schroeder, Gracie Morinishi, Isabella Villagomez, Nic Gantzer, Les Ico


By Tina Arth


A few months ago, I got a phone call from an old friend. She was doing a 12-step program, and had reached the step where she needed to apologize to people she had hurt in the past. Despite the passage of so many years, I knew before she said anything else that she was going to talk about a time in junior high when she was part of a group that ostracized and mocked me for several months – my only real experience as a victim of bullying. The whole thing somehow passed away and we resumed our friendship, but I never forgot the sense of inexplicable shame – and she had obviously never forgotten the shame she later felt for her behavior.

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of The 100 Dresses, adapted by Mary Hall Surface from Eleanor Estes’ original book, quietly but powerfully explores the way bullying affects all of us – the victim, the family, bystanders, and perpetrators. While the show is clearly aimed at children, it is equally clear that its timely messages about cruelty, and xenophobia in particular, are appropriate for audiences of all ages. Director Sarah Ominski understands the show’s themes and draws solid performances from her cast.

The story is set in a small New England town, circa 1938. A family of Polish immigrants, the Petronskis, have moved to the outskirts of town. They are poor, and they talk funny – worst of all, young Wanda Petronski only has one dress, which she wears to school every day. Challenged by a clique of local girls, Wanda claims to have 100 dresses, which triggers “the game.” Goaded by ringleader Peggy Thomas, the girls constantly demand information from Wanda about her dresses, and she haltingly gives them details about the beautiful gowns she claims to have at home. Peggy’s best friend, Maddie, is a reluctant participant in the game – she, too, is poor, and she is afraid to speak up for Wanda for fear that the wealthier girls will turn on her, too. One day Wanda does not show up at school, and the girls learn that her father has suddenly moved to a larger city in order to protect his family from the hostility with which they have been met in the small town. The show concludes by delivering its ultimate message, as Maddie courageously attempts to atone for her previous silence by apologizing and by speaking out against mindless cruelty.

Young Annika Sadowski is unforgettable as Wanda, the sad-eyed outsider who patiently endures the girls’ taunting. Every child in the audience (and every adult) who has ever stood on the outside looking in can relate to her misery, and respond to the mixture of despair and a powerful optimism that she can somehow fit in. Summer Schroeder’s casually vicious Peggy also rings true, with a thoughtless arrogance that never lets down for even a moment.  Right in the middle is Isabella Villagomez’ lovely portrayal of Maddie. Villagomez’ transition from the conflicted bystander and reluctant participant to fierce social justice warrior is paced perfectly, and she brings the audience with her through the character’s evolution.

Ted Schroeder is surprisingly effective as Wanda’s dad – he manages not only the Polish accent but also the attitude of the downtrodden but protective father flawlessly. Les Ico and Nic Gantzer do a fine job of portraying mischievous bad boys Jack and Willie, and the children in the audience clearly responded to their over-the-top hijinks. However, I found it a bit jarring to watch two adults playing roles as peers of the four young girls – even if the acting had been a bit spottier I would have preferred to see the roles played by a couple of rowdy pre-teens.

While the costumers are not called upon to provide 100 actual dresses, designers Jamie Hellerman and Sandi King have captured the spirit of the late Depression and expressed through costume the class differences that so starkly divided society during that troubled time.  The set, like most at Beaverton Civic Theatre, is detailed yet simple enough to allow for rapid scene changes; Alex Woodard’s set design maximizes the small space available in the auditorium.

It is tempting, and to some extent appropriate, to view a show like The 100 Dresses in the context of the current concern over cyberbullying – and it certainly gives the kids in the audience a framework through which to view the story’s multiple themes. However, a secondary but critical message must be the foolishness of xenophobia in a rapidly changing world, where children need to grow up embracing, rather than fearing, diversity.

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of The 100 Dresses runs through Saturday, May 19th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, with 8:00 pm shows on Friday and Saturday and a 2:00 pm matinee on Sunday, May 13th.

Mask & Mirror’s Living Out – Insightful, Moving, Current

Naiya Amilcar, Laila Mottaghi, and Eleanor Amorós


By Tina Arth


When playwright Lisa Loomer’s Living Out debuted in Los Angeles 15 years ago, its themes of class distinction, economic inequality, racism, and illegal immigration were all relevant – but the importance of these topics has ballooned since (what now seem like) the “good old days” of George W. Bush. Mask & Mirror’s choice to produce this play is inspired, and director Linda Talluto and assistant director Jayne Furlong have done a fine job of bringing the show to local audiences.

The title Living Out refers to the status of nannies “living out” as opposed to living full-time with the families whose children are placed in their care. The Los Angeles setting lends itself well to the basic set-up: wealthy white families hiring Hispanic immigrants, most of them undocumented, to provide child care and other household services for their families while the mothers either work at high-powered jobs or exhaust themselves with a nonstop regimen of tennis, shopping, luncheons, charity functions, and yoga. Loomer creates a memorable tale that combines fast-paced, sitcom style humor with genuine pathos and a hefty dose of social commentary. Salvadoran immigrant Ana Hernandez needs work – her husband Bobby’s construction work is sporadic, the pay too low to support a wife and son plus Ana’s other son who lives with his grandmother in El Salvador. Ana is determined to bring her older boy to the U.S. but until she and Bobby achieve legal status this just a dream. After two unsuccessful interviews, Ana realizes that employers don’t want to hire a woman with children of their own – she is hired by lawyer/new mom Nancy Robin by pretending that both of her sons are in El Salvador.  Naturally, things go very wrong, and not in a comfortably wacky I Love Lucy way.

Eleanor Amorós makes an extraordinary theatrical debut in the role of Ana Hernandez – had I not been told that this was her first time on stage I would have looked for an extensive resume. She has mastered the art of timing and delivery, so her emotional, resolute, and humorous moments all ring 100% true. It is clear that her character’s strength is drawn in part from a quiet desperation that draws the audience in as her allies from the opening scene. Amorós is well matched with David Cabassa as her husband Bobby. The Puerto Rico born actor dances on the edge of a stereotypical machismo but holds back at all the right moments. The character he creates is straddling two worlds, trying to maintain a sense of primacy within the relationship yet able to cede some power to his woman without bitterness or violence. As Nancy Robin, Yelena King walks a similarly fine line, shifting smoothly from the very real anxiety of the new mom to the drive to avoid the “mommy track” in her law firm – we may not always like her (the nanny cam is over the line!) but we can relate to her struggle – she is seriously trying to do the right thing. As Nancy’s husband, a card-carrying Santa Monica liberal lawyer, Jordan Fugitt is appropriately clueless yet eager to relate to his disadvantaged nanny. Just as Cabassa subtly alarms the audience with the prospect of domestic violence, Fugitt sends out nascent vibes of sexual harassment – and like Cabassa, Fugitt reels it back in – reminding us (and Nancy) that an employer and an employee should be able to share an amicable moment with raising the specter of Harvey Weinstein.

A lot of the play’s ironic humor comes from the rapid shifts between four terrific supporting women, moms Lydia Ellis-Curry and Aurea Taylor and nannies Naiya Amilcar and Laila Mottaghi. The sarcasm, simmering hostility, and casual racism of the nannies creates a perfect counterpoint to the even more racist, entitled, pampered moms who cherish, but cannot be bothered to raise, their offspring. Taylor gives her character enough warmth that we are only slightly surprised that in the final crisis she actually considers the welfare of Ana’s child – Ellis-Curry’s character is supremely oblivious to such niceties.

Both lighting and set are key to staging this show, as its many brief scenes need to be separated by little more than a blackout. Jayne Furlong’s set uses the same basic living room/dining room/kitchen for all scenes – changes in lighting tell us when we are in upscale Santa Monica and when we are in Huntington Park, just 20 miles (but  depending on traffic, sometimes a critical 2 hours) away in Ana and Bobby’s home. One suggestion would be to find a way to utilize the audience level area just below the stage as an apron for the park scenes, eliminating the need for all scene changes.

Living Out has a currency that demands reflection and conversation – I would have loved to participate in an audience-talk back with the actors. It may not show up again on local stages for quite awhile, so by all means see it now and take the time to read Talluto’s Director’s Notes!

Mask & Mirror’s Living Out runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm through May 20th at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, 97224.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

It’s Only a Play…Yet So Much More!

Stan Yeend and Adam Randall
Photo by Alicia Turvin


By Tina Arth


I am sometimes annoyed when “loud laughers” at comedies seem to be overdoing the frequency and volume of their merriment.  Last Saturday night at Twilight Theater Company’s It’s Only a Play I was forced to rethink this reaction when I realized that the noisy broad in the front row was…me. The combination of a beautifully written and updated script (nice job, Terrence McNally!), a director with an eagle eye for comedic casting (nice job, Jason A. England!), a theater company with the reputation to draw the finest (nice job, Twilight!), and, well, the finest (nice job, cast!) means that once again audiences should flock to North Portland for an evening (or two) of superb entertainment.

In keeping with Twilight’s 2018 theme, “The Play Is the Thing,” the show is all about theater. It’s set in the Manhattan bedroom of a first-time Broadway producer – a huge opening night party is going on downstairs, but the bedroom is occupied (in fits and starts) by the director, one of the stars, the producer, the playwright, the playwright’s best friend, a critic, and an aspiring actor temping as a waiter. An unseen terror of a terrier lurks in the adjoining bathroom, ready to mangle even the largest ego in its tiny teeth (having already allegedly torn Kelly Ripa’s face to shreds – and who hasn’t considered doing that at least once?).  As the various characters wait for the first reviews, we are treated to two acts of smartly scripted angst and loving parody delivered with laser-like precision at everyone involved in theater that leaves no one untouched – even a heaping side-helping of scorn for television.

First among equals is Jeff Gibberson, playing best friend/sitcom star James Wicker. From the moment he appears on stage his timing and bearing create an unforgettably delicious character. When I checked out YouTube videos of the show’s Broadway production, I found myself (silently, so as not to upset the dogs) yelling “No! Do it like Gibberson!” at star Nathan Lane.  Jennifer Logan’s take on producer Julia Budder leaves no comic stone unturned – she is sweetly dumb as only a very, very rich woman can be, and her unique pronunciation (in particular, “theatruh” and “Irvine Berling”) tell us everything we need to know about first-time producers. I had to check last year’s review to confirm that she really is the same actor whose powerful performance rocked The Normal Heart last year – but that’s what acting is all about.

Adam Randall as the star-struck wannabe actor Gus P. Head is the first person we see. His eager-to-please attitude and vaguely Midwestern twang speak volumes about a character whose IQ seriously rivals that of the producer, especially when combined with his olfactory obsession with the coats of New York’s rich and famous – in fact, the coats play such an integral role that they should probably get their own bios. I nearly lost it (for about the twentieth time) when he leapt on the settee to deliver his own special a cappella take on “Defying Gravity.”  It’s sometimes difficult to look away from Conor Nolan as British director Frank Finger, and it’s not just his startling suit or obsessive kleptomania. Whether center stage or not, his anxious eyes and tense frame express a rivetingly controlled neurosis that lead inexorably toward his final meltdown.

Deone Jennings finds a lot of humor in washed up actress Virginia Noyes’ frantic attempts to control her anxiety attacks with baggies of magic pills, and her best moments are the ones when her ankle monitor behaves like a shock collar on steroids – the sunburned legs, while perhaps unintentional, just make it funnier. As misanthropic critic Ira Drew, Stan Yeend is a nice mixture of venom and vulnerabilty – clearly, he has an agenda of his own and more than a touch of most un-critic-like insecurity that gradually humanize him.  Finally, there’s Rick Barr as playwright Peter Austin – a bit of a thankless role, as he comes closest to playing the straight man, but he manages to make us care a little – not an easy task on a stage dominated by swirling eddies of high and low farce.

Scott Miler’s set and Mikaela Gladstone Saucedo’s costumes are perfect for the locale and personas – Broadway glitterati and nouveau riche décor appropriate to any era. Do not miss the portrait of Julia and her dog – one of those small touches that make the whole thing even funnier! Time permitting, I may have to go back to this one, and I hope to see many of you there.

Twilight Theater Company’s It’s Only a Play is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, May 13th with performances at 8 P.M. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

TITG’s Oklahoma – the Right Show in the Right Place

Jade Tate, Benjamin Philip, and Sarah Thornton.
Photo by Sarah Ominksi.
By Tina Arth

Judging from the turnout at Sunday’s matinee, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma still has the power to draw huge and enthusiastic audiences 75 years after its 1943 Broadway debut. Overall, Theatre in the Grove’s ambitious undertaking of the first American musical to thoroughly integrate the music with the story works well, managing to keep the audience engaged despite its length (over three hours with intermission, as Director Jason Weed opted not to delete any of the show’s musical or dance numbers). A few bobbles and probably unavoidable casting decisions are all that prevent the production from crossing over the line from fine community theater to fine theater – but there are enough great moments and superb performances that any Oklahoma fan, or any lover of classic musical theater, will be glad they made time to see the show.

Set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906, just before Oklahoma was granted statehood, the show tells the story of farm girl Laurey Williams and her beau, cowboy Curly McLain. While the young couple stubbornly refuse to admit their feelings for each other, Laurey is also courted (or perhaps “stalked” is a better word) by farmhand Jud Frye, an angry misfit whose longing for young Laurey leads to a world of trouble and hurt. A secondary story is the tale of Laurey’s friend Ado Annie, a libidinous young thing who juggles the ardor of her absent boyfriend Will Parker and the all-too-present traveling peddler, Ali Hakim. Underlying the action is the tension between the homesteaders and the cowboys, fences and plows vs. cattle on the open range. Contemporary themes of uniting a divided society and addressing sexist double standards ring true today – and Jud Frye’s story is frighteningly relevant in an era just coming to grips with the relationship between societal rejection, casual bullying, and mass murder.

Austin Hampshire, a newcomer to TITG (and to acting – he’s a classically trained vocalist just transitioning to theatrical performance) brings his lovely voice to Curly’s big numbers like “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’’ and “Surrey with the Fringe On Top.” It’s a stretch for him to completely master the role’s arrogant cowboy swagger, but he makes a game attempt and establishes some believable chemistry with Jade Tate’s Laurey.  Tate and Hampshire blend beautifully in “People Will Say We’re In Love,” and Hampshire’s slyly heartless delivery of “Pore Jud Is Daid” is a real highlight of the show. 

I applaud the decision to cast Tate as Laurey – the petite brunette doesn’t look like any Laurey I’ve seen before, but she brings tenacity to the role that belies her fragile appearance, and she completely nails both solos and duets. Brandon Weaver turns in a stunning and original performance as Jud Frye – he finds an intriguing middle ground between aggressor and victim that expresses a very 21st century view of Frye’s angry and tortured character. 

Sarah Thornton creates a marvelous Ado Annie – cute as a bug, funny, insouciant, and just dumb enough to justify her thoroughly wacky behavior. The chemistry between Thornton and Scott Smith (Will Parker) is inspired, their story lightens up a sometimes dark tale, and he handles the challenging song and dance routine required in “Kansas City” like a pro. Benjamin Philip’s broadly comic take on Ali Hakim is often brilliant – when he’s supposed to be center stage he grabs our attention and elicits lots of well-deserved laughter. However, there are moments when he needs to turn down the flame a bit and just blend with the ensemble – and while it’s amusing there’s just no room for a Charlie Chapin imitation in Oklahoma.

In a huge cast with lots of key roles, other standout performances come in from Robin Michaels (Aunt Eller), Bud Reece (Andrew Carnes), Kate Barrett (Gertie Cummings), and dancers Amelia Michaels, Lue Harrelson, Kassie Switzer, and Matthew Hampshire.

Weed’s decision to place the orchestra on stage works well, despite the loss of space for the large cast. The skilled performers look natural in the gazebo that evokes a small-town bandstand, and the few moments when the actors briefly interact with musicians are a nice touch. The rest of the set is equally effective – a lovely backdrop, convincing farmhouse, and darkly sinister hovel (that moves quickly – a real plus!) for Jud Frye’s grimy smokehouse. Brian Ollom’s lighting design complements much of the action, although the lighting in the dream sequence would work better if the second half were much darker.

Theatre in the Grove has picked a sure-fire winner – they clearly understand the community and know how to keep the customers satisfied. While there are no really bad seats in the theater, the best spots often go early, so it’s a good idea to buy in advance.

Oklahoma is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through April 29th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Always…Patsy Cline – 3rd Time’s a Charm (Again!)



By Tina Arth

One look at the opening night audience made it clear that Broadway Rose’s decision to bring back a popular, enormously successful, brilliantly performed show after a 5-year hiatus is definitely a revival, not a recycle! Sara Catherine Wheatley and Sharon Maroney are reprising their roles in creator Ted Swindley’s Always… Patsy Cline, a musical love letter to the beautiful powerhouse who broke the glass ceiling, barriers between country and pop, and millions of hearts in her short singing career. If you’ve never seen it – go. If you saw it somewhere else - go. If you saw one of the two previous Broadway Rose productions, then I don’t need to tell you to go – you’ve already figured it out – and hopefully bought your tickets, as many performances are already close to sold out.

While it is in many ways a tribute concert (adorned with Wheatley’s renditions of 28 songs from Cline’s huge repertoire), there is a solid narrative, based on a true story, to carry move the evening along. To reprise my 2013 review, “The show is based on the real-life relationship between Patsy Cline and an ardent fan, Louise Seger. Louise fell in love with Patsy’s music after hearing her on the Arthur Godfrey Show, and spent one night as Patsy’s self-appointed manager and hostess that led to a lasting friendship between the two women. The story is told by Louise talking directly to the audience, direct conversations between Louise and Patsy, Louise’s imagination, Patsy and Louise interacting with the band, and of course the songs that Patsy sings in a foot-stomping couple of hours.”

Wheatley is simply amazing – if anything, her voice is even richer and her grasp of Cline’s vocal and personal mannerisms more accurate than the last time I saw her play the role. To again plagiarize the 2013 review, “Wheatley’s vocal ability and stage presence recreate the magic that can only be experienced when a first-rate performer is seen live – recordings just do not capture the exuberance or the intimacy that we imagine Patsy Cline must have brought to the stage. Remarkably, Wheatley achieves this without overt imitation – her vocal style, while reminiscent of Cline’s, is distinctly her own…”

As the star struck Houston divorcee Louise Seger, Sharon Maroney brings just the right touch of just-us-folks charm to her role as narrator and supporting character. Her spectacularly tacky attire presents a nice counterpoint to Wheatley’s increasingly elegant costumes and coiffures, and the rapport between the two women while they giggle, gossip, and cook up a mess of bacon and eggs tells us everything we need to know about Cline’s folksy roots.

Musical director/conductor/pianist Barney Stein has again done an extraordinary job of creating a true country band, placed right on stage where they ought to be - and the band’s frequent interactions with their vocalist, both joking around and in occasional vocal harmonies, precisely capture the egalitarian feel so critical to the creation of a down-home barn ambience.

In his program note, Director Chan Harris highlights the importance of genuine friendship in a world where texting and social media have often replaced the beauty of real human contact. For a couple of hours last Friday, I was transported from 2018 to 1961, able to put my worries aside and hang out with 200+ fellow music lovers. I strongly recommend that you do the same!


Always…Patsy Cline is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, May 6th.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

LOoP’s The Student Prince – Not G&S, Still Fun

Lindsey Lefler and Jacob Mott
By Tina Arth


My background in light opera is very, very light – so much so that I didn’t realize that The Student Prince was not a Gilbert and Sullivan work until I saw the program at the Light Opera of Portland (LOoP) production Sunday evening. When I talked to some cast members after the show I understood – Dorothy Donnelly and Sigmund Romberg’s 1924 operetta, billed on the program as “A Spectacular Light Opera,” is exactly the kind of thing that Gilbert and Sullivan so brilliantly skewered in their slyly subversive body of work. It is a real tribute to director Dennis Britten and his cast that I was able to thoroughly enjoy the production despite its markedly aristocratic bent.

While the book lacks the relentlessly witty patter of G&S, the story is structured exactly like some of their best-loved classics – the wealthy prince/king falls in love with the beautiful, but humbly-born barmaid, while the lovely and high-born princess (the king’s betrothed) seems to have given her heart to the soldier assigned to be her companion and bodyguard. I fully expected the king to abandon his throne, or at the very least to discover that the barmaid and princess had been switched at birth – but alas, in The Student Prince duty trumps passion, and it is honorable to uphold class distinctions. The play is by no means dry – it’s actually a joyous celebration of the freedom and exuberance of youth (at least, for men of the right background) expressed through their enthusiastic embrace of wine, women and song at the University of Heidelberg. It is loaded with rousing songs, stirring harmonies, familiar melodies, nostalgia, melodrama and beer-swilling frat boys (or the their 19th century Heidelberg predecessors), with a nice touch of pathos as the prince’s loyal tutor/mentor rescues him temporarily from the chains of his noble birth yet counsels him ultimately back into the life of civic obligation into which he was born. Better yet, the vocals are every bit as challenging – sometimes simply breathtaking (quite literally for the artists, I’m sure).

 Bill Wuertz’s work as Doctor Engel, the tutor, is a real highlight. His voice occasionally wobbles, but no more than one would expect of an old man who spends his last days briefly recapturing his lost youth, and “Golden Days” is genuinely touching. For comic relief, we have both the prince’s valet Lutz (Rob Patrick) and the valet’s valet, Hubert (Linh Nguyen), jointly painting a picture of snobbery taken to hilarious extreme. On the distaff side, Pat Lach (as the Grand Duchess Anastasia) sweeps around the stage with delicious grandeur, and Gabrielle Widman (Gretchen, the maid at the Inn) counters with earthy humor until her reappearance in Act III, when she dons a fine dress and puts on lofty airs of her own. Becca Stuhlberg plays a key role as Princess Margaret; she is a deft vocalist, dances gracefully, and tackles perhaps the most challenging acting in the show as she grows from a spoiled princess into a dedicated and dutiful future queen.

The real stars, however, are Jacob Mott as Prince Karl Franz and Lindsey Lefler as barmaid Kathie. Mott and Lefler have nice chemistry, and they are more than equal to their demanding tenor and soprano roles. Lefler’s soaring coloratura work, often delivered from her perch atop a barroom table, leaves the audience breathless yet never betrays the humble origins of her character. Mott’s vibrant tenor voice handles the songs with ease, and he is equally adept at expressing his character’s shifts: sheltered prince, free-spirited rake, ardent lover, and ultimately mature monarch.

 

The LOoP production is blessed with a fine orchestra, under the direction of the remarkable Dr. Linda Smith. I was particularly happy to see that each of the musicians is given a separate bio in the program – these hard working, talented folks deserve all the attention they can get. Lucy Tait’s costumes are really quite stunning – the ball gowns elaborate and authentic, and the costumes for the Rheinisher and Saxon Corps as well as the members of the court add a great deal of color and character to the production.

 

Dennis Britten’s love of light opera fuels this almost unprecedented opportunity for locals to experience an amazingly entertaining art form. With only a two-week run, there’s not much time. Luckily, the Alpenrose Opera House is huge, and there’s ample space for all.

 

The Student Prince plays Friday, March 23d and Saturday, March 24th at 7:30 PM and Sunday, March 25th at 2:00 PM at the Alpenrose Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.