Irene Review – Revival of the 1919 hit Musical

So what does the Opera Nut do on November 1, 2013,  when faced with a two-week vacation after seeing 6 operas (and reviewing 4 of them) in October? 

Director Marc Kenig introduces “Irene”

Does he get caught up on all the things that didn’t done that month?  No.  Does he get a head start on his income tax?  No.  Does he read a good book?  No.  He goes to see a light-hearted musical to relax – but  not to review it.  .  .  . And then reviews it!

Irene (Diane Squires) sings the hit song “Alice-Blue Gown”; Donald (Andrew Solovay) watches with approval

In my sweet little Alice blue gown, 

When I first wandered down into town,

I was so proud inside, 

As I felt every eye, 

And in every shop window I primped, passing by.

A new manner of fashion I'd found, 

And the world seemedto smile all around. 

Til it wilted, I wore it,

I'll always adore it,
My sweet little Alice blue gown!

Eleanor and “the girls” (June Melchior, Katherine Chapin [Eleanor], Connie Kleinjans, and Kathy Kriese) sing about genealogy as a hobby; Will Todd, Barry Hayes, Mark Baushke, and Patrick Shapiro are the Professors of Genealogy

Why did I have to write this review of a musical that I’d never heard of before, by a company I’d never heard of before?  Because Irene is a perfect gem of a musical.  The plot is a predictable Cinderella story – shop-girl crashes high society and finds true love.  The music is foot-tapping and sing-able.  Indeed, with the words projected on a large screen  at the back wall of the stage, I had to resist the temptation to sing-along even if I’d never heard a particular melody before.  The singing and acting were both good to excellent.

Lary (Carmello Tringali) tries to hit on Irene - the lady is not interested

Irene was, in fact the perfect antidote to my October diet of operas by classic masters – Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini –  plus a world-premiere by Picker and a dissonant Shostakovich with surreal cartoons.  It had been a wonderful month, but a challenging one.  Searching for new insights in the classics and relating the moderns to reality.  

Donald Marshall (Andrew Solovay) and his friend Bob Harrison (Andrew Solovay) discuss their plan to find models for Bob’s friend dress designer Madame Lucy

So, about this performance.  Let’s start with the opera company: Opera Free Range – a  strictly volunteer organization with a highly unusual business model.  It relies on gifts and donations for all of its expenses and donates the entire gate to another charitable organization – in this case The Career Closet. .  Their particular forte is finding and restoring early musicals. Judging by Irene, I, I hope they will prove most successful and that I’ll get a chance to see many future productions in the coming years.

(C): Madame Lucy (Tom Caldecott) teaches Irene’s two friends (L to R): Jane Gilmour (Ewa Nowicka) and Helen Cheston (Suzanne Guzzitta) some rudiments of Society modeling

The production focused on the essentials: music, words, and action.  The “scenery” consisted of a large white projection screen at the back of the stage.  At the beginning of each scene it showed a single picture to illustrate the scene: a veranda, a garden, a Ninth Avenue tenement, etc.  As soon as the action started, the picture switched and the screen was used only to display the lyrics of the songs.  The only stage furnishings were six chairs which were unobtrusively moved on and off stage by the actors.  The entire list of props: one handkerchief, two jewelry cases, and in the final party scene several cocktail glasses and wine bottles.

(L – R): Jane, Helen, Madame Lucy, Donald’s mother Mrs. Marshall (Carol Ann Parker) – in a state of shock that “Madame” is a male – and nouveau-riche snob J. P. Beaudon (Daniel Galpin)

 

Simplicity is the word for the entire production. Costumes were simple and appropriate.  Choreography was mostly ballroom dancing.  Except for Irene and her two friends, there were no costume changes.  The “orchestra” was a single piano in a back corner of the stage.  

 

 

Irene receives a marriage proposal from ultra-rich J. P. Beaudon (Mr. Wrong) – he later retracts it when he finds out that she is a shop girl

 

It wasn’t Grand opera, but it could be called Light opera – in fact the lady seated next to me said it reminded her of Gilbert & Sullivan.  And it was delightful.  

 

 

 

It takes until the final curtain, of course, but eventually Irene finds Donald (Mr. Right) and they live happily ever after.

 

It was so delightful that I went to see it again at the Sunday Matinee.  If you live anywhere near the San Francisco Bay area, and are reading this on or before November 9, you’ve got one last chance to experience the fun of Irene. The final performance is in Walnut Creek:

 

 

 

Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek

925-943-7469 • lesherarts.org

Saturday, November 9 2013, 2pm

I wish I could be there for a third performance, but I’m back to the heavy stuff with HD performances of Tosca on Saturday and Tristan & Isolde on Sunday.

 

     

IRENE

Music by Harry Tierney
Lyrics by Joseph McCarthy
Libretto by James Montgomery

New performing edition by Neil Midkiff & Marc Kenig
Stage direction by Marc Kenig, assisted by Mark Blattel
Music direction and Piano accompaniment by Neil Midkiff
Choreography by Kimber Rudo, Mark Blattel, and Jeff Kellem

Cast of Characters in photo

L to R

Character

Description

Performer

F1

Mrs. Cheston

Helen’s mother

Connie Kleinjans *

F2

Eleanor Worth

her young friend

Katherine Chapin

F3

Helen Cheston

Irene’s friend

Suzanne Guzzitta

F4

Ensemble-F

 

Kathy Kriese

F5

Irene O’Dare

a shop girl

Diane Squires

F6

Jane Gilmour

Irene’s friend

Ewa Nowicka

F7

Mrs. Marshall

social set leader

Carol Ann Parker

F8

Ensemble-F

 

June Melchior

F9

Mrs. O’Dare

Irene’s mother

Catherine Sheldon

M01

Madame Lucy

 a dress designer

Tom Caldecott

M02

Ensemble-M

 

Barry Hayes

M03

Bob Harrison

Donald’s friend

Mark Blatted

M04

Piano

 

Neil Midkiff

M05

Larry Hadley

a friend (?) of Donald

Carmello Tringali

M06

J. P. Beaudon

a social climber

Daniel Galpin

M07

Ensemble-M

 

Patrick Shapiro

M08

Donald Marshall

her young son

Andrew Solovay

M09

Clarkson

his manservant

Mark Baushke *

M10

Stage Director

 

Marc Kenig

M11

Ensemble-M

 

Will Todd

*       Also part of the Ensemble

Post=performance group photo after the Sunday performance

 

Free Range Opera Theatre, Inc.

408-475-1376
[email protected]

 


All photos by Steve Stubbs.

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