We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Natalie Ramirez as Lolita--Photo: Michael Portantiere, FollowSpotPhoto.com,
We have been widening our view beyond opera and examining musical theater, especially as it relates to opera (thanks, Steven Blier, for opening our eyes).  We were eager to see the work of Musicals Tonight!  founded by Mel Miller in 1997.  The company has a loyal base of subscribers, musical theater lovers who cherish the opportunity to see overlooked and forgotten treasures brought to theatrical life.

Last night was opening night for Cole Porter's Mexican Hayride and a wild ride it was.  It opened in 1943 and was a huge hit on Broadway for well over a year.  One can easily see why.  It is lighthearted entertainment, starred June Havoc and Bobby Clark,  and must have delighted an audience filled with servicemen on leave and theatergoers longing for distraction from the anxiety of being at war. 

The major draw of reviving this show not seen in seventy years would have to be Cole Porter's music.  Granted this is second-rate Porter but second-rate Porter is far more listenable than most composers writing today.  He knows his way around a rhyme and gets a great synergy going between words and music.  Music Director James Stenborg did a fine job of arranging.  We enjoyed the onstage trumpet during the mariachi scene.

However the book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields is absurd and terminally dated.  The humor is often smarmy and old-fashioned.  Interesting how an opera written in 1843 never seems dated but a musical written a century later does.  The clichés are abundant and often embarrassing.  The preposterous story concerns a numbers racketeer on the lam from the law in the USA who catches a bull's ear thrown at him after a bullfight and thereby becomes celebrated in some North/South of the Border fellowship festival.  He can't stay hidden for long since his abandoned wife comes looking for him and her sister is the famous bullfighter of the ear-throwing episode; of course he assumes a number of ridiculous disguises to avoid being caught and extradited.  It's quite a part to play but M.X. Soto overplayed it with an excess of mugging, rather than finding the charming core that sociopaths generally exhibit.  But we did enjoy his duet with the bullfighter "Count Your Blessings" toward the end of the show.

The performance we enjoyed the most was Natalie Ramirez as Lolita, the local lounge singer.  Ms. Ramirez performed off-book and we admired her moves in a very sexy gown as well as her willingness to learn the part and throw herself into it. Her two solos "Tequila" and "Carlotta" were delightful.  We enjoyed Jessica Wagner as the bullfighter Montana and her romantic duet "It's Just Yours" with Jacob L. Smith, an attaché at the American Embassy.  Amie Bermowitz was entertaining as Dagmar with a great song "Humble Hollywood Executive".  Unfortunately her Russian accent was intermittent.  David Marmanillo made a fine Lombo, Lolita's manager who gets unwittingly embroiled in the racketeer's nefarious activities in Mexico that steal business from the national lottery.

Hearing unamplified voices singing good music was a special treat for us; performances hampered in their connection with the audience by the presence of scores was not.  There are probably some good reasons for their presence but it was distracting, particularly during the choreographed moments.  It would appear that Director/Choreographer Thomas Sabella-Mills did the best he could on the tiny stage of the Lion Theater and we expect that as the two week run wears on the direction will get a bit tighter.  We would like to offer a kind word to the Costume Designer if only one were listed; the costumes were very appropriate to the 1940's.

In two weeks, Musicals Tonight! will present Smile! by Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Ashmen.  1986 may seem a bit more au courant than 1944.

© meche kroop

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