|Joyful concluding scene from Nathan Hull's "Scrooge" at Riverside Theater
We think of creativity as the ability to take things that are known and to combine them in a new way to produce something novel. That concept can be applied accurately to the work of art created by Nathan Hull, Artistic Director of Amore Opera.
The multi-talented Mr. Hull has directed his own creation for the second of what will be an annual event, and directed it with his customary skill and inventiveness. We loved last year's production so much that we returned this year, bringing a friend who was new to Amore Opera and not (yet) particularly a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan. Sharing it with a friend who was absolutely enchanted gave us great pleasure. New York Village Light Opera presented it a decade ago and it has been performed around the country many times since then.
Judging by the quality of the work, Mr. Hull must have labored long and diligently, adapting Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" for the stage and curating over 20 songs from 11 operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan. The greatest part of the task would seem to have been writing the lyrics for Sullivan's music, retaining the wittiness, the meter, and the rhyme scheme established by Gilbert. Clearly the selections had to be chosen to fit the characters singing them and to advance the drama of the scene. We consider the work a complete success but Mr. Hull tells us he is still tweaking it.
The work opened with the fine chorus singing "Christmas Season", an adaptation of "Welcome, Gentry" from Ruddigore. This bustling joyful scene set the stage for Scrooge's negativity. The closing number was borrowed from The Gondoliers-- "Now Let the Loyal Lieges" and utilized Gilbert's own lyrics.
In between we enjoyed some excellent voices illuminating the dramatic arc of the enlightenment of a very unpleasant man, the selfish and miserly Scrooge, effectively enacted by Ray Calderon. Who doesn't enjoy seeing the transformation of the wicked into the lovable!
The transformation is effected by the ghost of Scrooge's deceased partner Jacob Morley (scarily portrayed by Jay Stephenson). He introduces Scrooge to three spirits who guide him through this transformation.
The Ghost of Christmas Past was portrayed by Alexa Rosenberg, a wraith in a white gown who danced gracefully through her role. The Ghost of Christmas Present was superbly sung by Alexis Cregger whose "Come in and Know Me Better" was a fine iteration of "Pirate King" from The Pirates of Penzance. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was performed by Kristina Malinauskaite, unrecognizable in a scary long black gown. (She was perfectly recognizable as one of the "charity ladies").
There was so much delight in the evening that it is difficult to pick out special moments but we will make an effort. There was a lovely duet between the young Ebenezer (tenor Ramon Gabriel Tenefrancia) and Belle Fezziwig (soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi), the woman he lost because of his materialism. There was a sprightly dance by Fezziwig, Tom, Dick, and Harry (Thomas Geib, Patrick Valdes-Dapena, Sean Biopcik, and Brett Murphy) trying to loosen up young Ebenezer--"Soon as We May" adapted from Iolanthe's "If You Go In".
The Cratchit children sang "We Won't Eat Just Any Old Thing" adapted from "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring" from The Mikado; note the scanning similarities! The young Leo Kogan made a most appealing Tiny Tim and sang "Were I to Walk" adapted from "Were I Thy Bride" from The Yeomen of the Guard.
Do you remember the very funny "A Paradox" from The Pirates of Penzance? Here it was sung by Scrooge's nephew Fred (Michael Celentano), his wife Celeste (Christa Dalmazio) and their dinner guests Julia (Sarah Adams) and Topper (James Stephen Longo). The four had terrific chemistry together.
Do you remember "Things are Seldom What They Seem" from H.M.S. Pinafore? Here it was sung by a cockney-accented pair (Evelyn Thatcher and Richard Agster) trading old Scrooge's belongings after his (future) death. They provided excellent comic relief.
Brendon Gallagher made a sympathetic Bob Cratchit with Perri Sussman doing her usual fine work as his wife and mother of their six children.
This might be a good time to mention how successful Mr. Hull is at getting children onstage in every production and to also mention that he is auditioning children for an all-children production of Iolanthe.
Aside from the fine direction, we enjoyed the effective sets which were provided by The Village Light Opera, and based upon David Jones' original design. Cynthia Psoras designed the excellent period costumes.
One very important addition for this 2018 version was the addition of surtitles so not one of Mr. Hull's clever words were lost.
We do, however, have one quibble. The orchestra, under the baton of Elizabeth Hastings, was occasionally faulty in their tuning. We noticed this predominantly in the overture but as soon as the excellent singing began we were able to overlook the problem.
There are three more performances and it is not to be missed!
(c) meche kroop