MISSION

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.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

FEEL THE KERN

Jerry Steichen at the piano with singers Adam Cannedy, Alex Corson, Claire Kuttler, Richard Holmes, Emma Grimsley, Bryan Elsesser, Natalie Ballenger, and Rachael Braunstein

Perhaps you have enjoyed listening to the Jerome Kern song "Look For the Silver Lining". Perhaps you even knew that it came from his 1920 show Sally. We did not know this yesterday, but now we do, thanks to a charming production of the show by Light Opera of New York. known as LOONY.

We don't wish to put too fine a point on the differences between American musical comedy, operetta, and opera. They are all art forms using singing to tell a story. This story, with book by Guy Bolton, is a sweet one, analogous to the Cinderella tale. 

A spunky girl from a settlement house is put to work as a dishwasher in a restaurant. Of course, she wants to be a star. Of course, the Russian star doesn't show up and she must impersonate her.  Of course, she is madly successful.  Of course, a wealthy young man falls for her.  Of course, there is a misunderstanding.  Of course, there is a reconciliation and a happy ending. Of course, the audience leaves smiling and happy.

The main thing is the music.  From the jaunty overture to the finale, we are swept along by a virtual tide of tunes, sung by a talented cast that is gloriously unamplified. In the lead role of Sally herself, we heard the winsome Emma Grimsley with her scintillating soprano and the dramatic chops to convince us--both as the spunky girl she really is and the Russian star she is impersonating. Her solo "Wild Rose", contrasting her personality with that of the  PRIMrose, was darling.

Tenor Alex Corson has a pleasing voice that sings out "Irish tenor". If he isn't Irish we will eat our words! He was utterly convincing as the rich fella who falls in love with the dishwasher AND the Russian star. Their duet "Whip-poor-Will" was lovely and sweet.

Otis, the agent who gets her the contract, was played by the fine Adam Cannedy whose newfound wealth from the contract will allow him to marry his heavily Brooklyn-accented sweetheart Rosie, humorously portrayed by Claire Kuttler. Their duet, "The Church 'Round the Corner" was pure delight.

The restaurant where Sally washes dishes is owned by Pops, played by the veteran Richard Holmes, and the waiter Connie by a very funny Bryan Elsesser. Of course, he is really a deposed Duke from some Mitteleuropean country called Czechokovinia! His star turn in "The Schnitza-Kommiski" kept us in stitches.

Also on hand was the snotty (of course!) aristocratic Mrs. Ten Bruck, played by Rachael Braunstein with a marvelous sneer, and her daughter Marsha, played by Natalie Ballenger.  Where would theater be without clich├ęs???

The lyrics by Clifford Grey (with the exception of "Look for the Silver Lining",the lyrics of which were written by B..G. DeSylva) were short and punchy with lots of obvious rhymes like "title and vital", "shady and lady", "altar and halter", "lucky and plucky", and "seraphic and traffic".  Where would American music be without obvious rhymes???

This is not meant to disparage the writing.  It is just the kind of rhyming that the English language is meant for and is enormously satisfying to the ear, just like a 4-5-1 cadence. The reduction of the libretto was accomplished by John Ostendorf.

We were most gratified that the diction was perfect.  We missed not a single word. That skill with diction on top of the superb voices had us falling madly in love with the cast.

The excellent Music Director Jerry Steichen not only shone in his playing of the reduced score, but also narrated the omitted parts of the story from the piano. He is an engaging presence. One interesting tidbit is that Mr. Kern was not trusted to write the music for the big "Butterfly Ballet" number; that task was given to Victor Herbert!

Stage Direction was by Gary Slavin and it worked well without any set to speak of. No one is credited for the costumes and hairstyles but there was a definite 1920 look to the piece. The venue was 80 St. Marks Place Theater which appears to be of the same vintage and boasts excellent sightlines and good acoustics.

There is one more performance tonight and it would be a fine Saturday night to spend with a great group of singers/actors.  Feel the Kern!

(c) meche kroop



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