|Brian Kilday, Drew Bolander, Angela Christine Smith, and Sarah Caldwell Smith
VHRPL! is enjoying their third season and we are a bit dazzled by their growth as a company. Founder and Artistic Director Alyce Mott has successfully shepherded the fledgling company in such a successful manner that the audience for Victor Herbert's masterpieces is growing by leaps and bigger leaps. This is due partly to her diligent efforts to improve upon the original and partly to her assembling a superb group of singers who can act.
Last night's performance of The Princess Pat was a huge hit and, for the first time, libretti were provided--great to take home and re-read. A chamber orchestra is coming up next! Although we love William Hicks' piano accompaniment, it will be wonderful to see what Music Director/Conductor can achieve with an orchestra.
The Princess Pat premiered a century ago but continues to delight with the freshness of Herbert's melodies and its romantic plot. The work had over 150 performances at the Cort Theater. The book and original lyrics were by Henry Blossom but Ms. Mott rearranged the order of the musical numbers and rewrote the libretto for this performance to make the characters more relatable--and directed it as well. And directed it well! We'd say her efforts were wildly successful!
The story might just as well have been called The Fixer because the central character appears to be one Bob Darrow (Brian Kilday) who solves all the problems of the other characters.
Lovely young Grace Holbrook (Sarah Caldwell Smith) is about to be married off to the wealthy widowed womanizer Anthony Schmalz (David Seatter) who is a German parvenu with a heavy accent; the reason is that her uncle, the amusingly befuddled General John Holbrook (Richard Holmes) has recently lost his fortune.
Holbrook's son Tony (Drew Bolander) is a bit of a slacker who needs a good woman to set him straight; can you guess whom that might be? Fixer Bob is full of plots and devices to get her married to the right man.
Grace's best friend Pat (Angela Christine Smith) is troubled by conflict with her husband, a jealous and possessive Sicilian Prince Antonio Di Montaldo ( Jason Robinette) . She was unhappy in Sicily and missed her Long Island home, her dogs, and her horses. Now they have returned to L.I. and he is unhappy. She feels neglected and it's up to Fixer Bob to restore their love.
The work is filled with humor, much of which is provided by the servants and friends. Joanie Brittingham portrayed Marie, Grace's French maid, and Nathan Baer played Thomas, Holbrook's butler. Friends provided the excellent chorus--Tanya Roberts, Merrin Lazyan, Pedro Coppeti, Matthew Billman, and the double-cast Ms. Brittingham and Mr. Baer.
Further humor was derived from the local constable Si Perkins (Anthony Maida) who couldn't believe that people dine at such a late hour. He too had to be appeased by Fixer Bob.
We enjoyed the dancing, choreographed by Emily Cornelius, but we adored the singing. The duet between Princess Pat and her husband "All For You" was enchanting. Anthony's solo "I Wish I Was an Island in an Ocean of Girls" was a hilarious portrait of an aging lecher; the lyrics are clever as can be.
A duet between Grace and Pat "For Better or for Worse" deserves as much fame as "The Flower Song" from Leo Delibes' Lakme. Perhaps that inspired Herbert to blend two female voices so magnificently.
Si's song "The Shoes of Husband Number One as Worn by Husband Number Two" was not only hilarious but insightful. The male chorus was excellent in "Let's Drink One Toast", led by the General and the Prince.
And finally, we loved the romantic "Neapolitan Love Song" sung by the Prince--partly in Italian. Perhaps Herbert was influenced by Tosti who died at just about the time this work premiered.
Ms. Mott's direction was excellent, as it usually is; Mr. Thomas' conducting worked along with her direction to keep things moving at a rapid pace. This work was part of VHRPL!'s Irish season. Watch out for more to come!
(c) meche kroop