The Red Mill by Victor Herbert, presented by VHRPL!
It is 1906 and Italian audiences are crying their eyes out over Puccini's Madama
Butterfly; meanwhile, in New York City, audiences are laughing and reveling in the warm feelings of Victor Herbert's The Red Mill. This work had over 800 performances on Broadway and cemented Herbert's reputation as the Father of American Musical Theater.
It is a delightful work and contains most of theater's favorite plot points. There is a headstrong daughter who plots to marry the man of her choice whilst her obstinate father insists she marry to enhance his social standing. There is the young woman's passionate love for an impecunious young man. There is a secondary surprise pairing at the end. There is plenty of comic relief.
All of this joy is brought to you by The Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!, the Artistic Director of which, Alyce Mott, has devoted her artistic life to bringing Herbert's masterpieces to vivid life. All of Herbert's charming melodies are there as are the lyrics of Henry Blossom; but Ms. Mott has made notable improvements.
Having read the original synopsis, we can appreciate what a labor of love it is to tighten up the plot, get rid of extraneous characters, and rewrite the spoken dialogue to appeal to contemporary audiences. And appeal it did! The lovely Theater at St. Jean's was packed on opening night and the audience was giddy with joy. Women were humming the tunes in the ladies room during intermission! Finding this new home with raked seating and an orchestra pit opens the door for this nine-year-old company to become a major force in New York City's musical world.
The somewhat silly but ever-engaging story takes place in a mythical town in the Netherlands in which is situated the eponymous Red Mill, which seems to draw tourists by virtue of the legend of its being haunted. The innkeeper Berta (played by mezzo-ssoprano Alexa Devlin, a VHRPL! regular) has a hard time keeping employees and finds her inn overrun by struggling artists and their models (played by a sextet of fine young artists--Alonso Jordan Lopez, Sophie Thompson, Justin Chandler Baptista, Paige Cutrona, Keith Broughton, and Annie Heartney)-- freeloaders all.
She is planning the wedding of her niece Gretchen (played by the lovely soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith, also a VHRL! regular) daughter of her intransigent brother Jan van Borkem, the Burgomaster (ably played by another regular company member David Seatter). She is also dealing with two American conmen who try to slip away without paying their bill. One is named Con Kidder (Vince Gover) and the other, Kid Conner (Andrew Buck). We kid you not! (insert ROFL emoji)
Gretchen's beloved, the seafaring Captain Dori van Damm ( the excellent Andrew Klima) arrives on the scene in the nick of time but winds up imprisoned by the Sheriff (John Nelson) and our lovely heroine winds up imprisoned in the Red Mill. Meanwhile comic relief is provided by the two Americans who have been pressed into service as waiter and tour guide, the latter purported to be multi-lingual. In a very funny scene, a French Countess (an hilarious Sarah Bleasdale) arrives on the scene and said "translator" must translate her French, which he clearly must invent on the spot. (We fondly recall this as an exercise in improvisation, one that is always enjoyed by the audience). Jonathan Fox Powers, another "regular" was seen as British solicitor Joshua Pennyfeather who carried off a running joke about wanting a cognac.
We could scarcely wait for the intended bridegroom to arrive on the scene. The Governor of Zeeland was portrayed in fine style by baritone Colin Safley who wowed the audience with one of the best numbers in the show "Every Day is Ladies Day with Me", the sexism of which was matched by the female lament "I'm Always Doing Something I Don't Want to Do", sung by Gretchen and Berta.
Another number we particularly enjoyed was "Always Go While the Goin' is Good", sung by the two conmen. Another duet we liked was sung by the Burgomaster and the Sheriff--"You Never Can Tell About a Woman".
The romantic weight was carried by Gretchen and Dori in "I Want You to Marry Me" and "The Isle of Our Dreams". Perhaps the most memorable number was "The Streets of New York". Every voice in the show was superb and accompanied by fine acting. The afore-mentioned chorus of six harmonized well and knit the show together.
We believe the score was adapted for a handful of instruments by Maestro Michael Thomas and we consider that a huge success inasmuch as nothing was lost and there was ample support for the singers. He conducted his chamber orchestra with intention and line. In the pit were violin, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, and percussion. The always wonderful William HIcks was at the piano where he has served for so many of VHRPL!'s productions.
Ms. Mott herself served as Stage Director with Maestro Thomas as Music Director.Christine Hall was responsible for the modest but effective choreography. The evening took us to our happy place and we do hope, dear Reader, that you can snag a ticket to experience such joy for yourself.
© meche kroop