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 11, 2013


Perhaps Mr. Sondheim would not agree with our opinion but after delighting in Side by Side by Sondheim at The Manhattan School of Music, we consider his works to be operas.  They tell engrossing stories that are relevant to the audience; the music and the stories work together in a way similar to the operas of the 19th c.  They represent a continuation of the tradition far more than so-called "serious operas", the ones that we force ourselves to see once and never want to see twice.  American Musical Theater has evolved out of the operetta tradition and those works evolved from the opera tradition.  Well, no matter what you call them, they are superb.

The production given by MSM's American Musical Theater Ensemble was as superb as the work itself; we could see it transferred intact directly to Broadway!  Narrated by the singers themselves, the anthology of songs was introduced with a bit of background about the shows from which they came.  Carolyn Marlow directed the students of her ensemble with a sure hand; every gesture and action appeared motivated by the lyrics.  Vocal professionalism married with dramatic effectiveness and fine musical values added up to more than the sum of the parts.

The setting by Shawn Kaufman offered little besides a shimmering silver curtain and two pianos, played with high spirits by Musical Director Shane Schag and Eric Sedgwick..  The simple costumes of black and cobalt blue by Rachel Guilfoyle did not distract from the main event--the music.

And what music it was!  The rousing opening "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was a perfect choice for starting things off with high energy.  Every song was a jewel but let us just mention a few that were for us highlights.  We loved Julia Suriano, just a sophomore in a group of graduate students, and Chelsie Nectow in "If Momma Was Married" from Gypsy (for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics and Jule Styne the music).  Ms. Suriano impressed us later with her interpretation of the flight attendant in "Barcelona" from Company.  Her sperm-of the-moment was beautifully portrayed by Kim Johansen.  We enjoyed this young performer once again in a unique interpretation of "Broadway Baby" from Follies.

Maren Weinberger and Clayton Brown were delightfully convincing  in "You Must Meet My Wife" from A Little Night Music; he waxed rhapsodic about his virgin bride and she did everything but roll her eyes.  What fun!  Ms. Weinberger has a flair for comedy as revealed in "I Never Do Anything Twice" from The Seven Percent Solution.

"Send in the Clowns" is one of our favorite songs and it was finely delivered by Christine Price who, with Ms. Weinberger, sang a moving operatic version of "A Boy Like That" from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein).  Ms. Price was joined by Ms. Nectow and an hilarious Peter Tinaglia in drag for "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" from Gypsy--a number that gave costumer Rachel Guilfoyle a chance to shine and the audience a chance to laugh out loud.  Laughing out loud was also earned by Kendrick Pifer in "The Boy from..." from The Mad Show (music by Mary Rodgers).

As far as Colleen Durham's choreography, just look at those tappy-toes in "We're Gonna Be All Right" from Do I Hear a Waltz?;  Chelsie Nectow and Clayton Brown really showed their stuff!  If prizes were awarded for the Best Diction, we would choose Maren Weinberger for her "Losing My Mind" from Follies.  Accustomed to hearing German and Italian, we find that English is more difficult to comprehend; when lyrics are as special as Sondheim's are, we would have wished to grasp every single word.  We are not sure whether amplification makes it any easier; possibly the opposite is true.  In any case, in spite of the tradition of amplification on Broadway, we couldn't help wondering how the show might have sounded without body mics, taking into account the well-trained voices we were listening to.  Just sayin'.

©meche kroop

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