Although The Student Prince was first performed almost 90 years ago, in 1924, I was unfamiliar with its 19th century story and score prior to seeing the Light Opera Works' production at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston. I found out what I had been missing was an entertaining operetta, a hugh cast of singers/dancers/actors, catchy songs and a complicated love story.
This begins as the story of young, handsome Prince Karl Franz of Karlsberg, Germany, who escapes the rigid confines of royal life at the Palace by attending the University of Heidelberg for one year. Immediately, he meets a wild bunch of beer-guzzling classmates, who initially don’t realize he is the future king.
The Prince fits in immediately with these young, freedom-loving and boisterous men. Subsequently, he meets and almost instantly falls in love with the beautiful waitress in the beer garden, Kathie, whose breath-taking soprano voice envelopes the entire theatre throughout the performance.
However, Kathie, the commoner, is not destined to marry the Prince, although both are madly in love with each other. Soon, the Prince, accompanied on this year-long University experience by his kindly tutor, Dr. Engel (Bill Stone), is called back to the palace to become the future King when his father falls ill. Then, we discover that the Prince has a pre- arranged upcoming marriage to Princess Margaret of Saxony, whom he doesn’t love.
This bittersweet romance ends when Karl Franz becomes King, and finally realizes the painful truth that he cannot marry the woman he truly adores.
The score was easy to enjoy, including songs like “Serenade”; “Drink, Drink, Drink”; and “Just We Two.” The Prince (William Bennett) and Kathie (Danielle M. Knox) stole the show with their rich voices and vivid love scenes. At times the Prince seemed too stiff to play the smitten Prince, but he was likable as the audience rooted for his first love to survive.
The Student Prince is directed and choreographed by Light Opera Works artistic director, Rudy Hogenmiller and conducted by Light Opera Works music director Roger L. Bingaman. The book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly with the book adaptation by Hugh Wheeler and glorious music by Sigmund Romberg.
I was surprised by the large cast who filled the stage with song and a few dance numbers. I especially enjoyed the sardonic, sarcastic dry wit of the Prince’s valet, Lutz, played to the hilt by Dale Benson. Other characters who stood out include Detlef (Jon Landvick) the student and lead of the Saxon Corps which the Prince joined; Duchess Anastasia of Saxony (Jody Goldman); Count von Mark (Glenn Braun); Princess Margaret (Stephanie Stockstill) and the man who loved her, Captain Tarnitz (Greg Zawada).
The work of scenic designer, Tom Burch and costume designer, Jeff Hendry, greatly enhanced this production.
Conductor Roger L. Bingaman led the 26-member orchestra members
Hurry as there are only a few days left to enjoy this really wonderful production.
Light Opera Works’ The Student Prince runs through August 28 at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston. For tickets, call: 847-869-6300 or go to: www.light-opera-works.org
Photos: Rich Foreman