Review of POP's Merry Widow -- A Romp In The Old West

The Merry Widow (or Widder  as dubbed in POP’s latest operatic showpiece,) is Pacific Opera Project’s latest offering.  It is filled with POP’s  well- known style of frolic and laughter,  while delivering  flawless and beautiful classic opera scores.  All the while the production remains true to the spirit of classic opera and brings it down to earth to the communities of today.

Split-level stage allows for dancing below, assignations above

 Performed at one of POP’s traditional venues, the Highland Park Ebell Club, Artistic Director Josh Shaw along with Musical Director Stephen Karr, present Franz Lehar’s famous piece in the theme and style of the American Old West—in the fictitious small town of Goldless, California.  With new English lyrics by Josh and Kelsey Shaw, the new approach to the story is filled with everything from raunchy humor to witty puns and everything in between. 

 

Burlesque chorus at Maxim's house of ill repute in Goldless, Calif.

At times the small stage is packed with so many performers it seems a bit chaotic, as in the opening scenes.  But as the story progresses we are treated to Radio City Hall -type burlesque, choreographed wonderfully by Amy Lawrence.. The production makes full use of the two layers of stage with not only dancing but also with secret trysts and other action. Although sung in English, the super-titles , printed cleverly between the upper and lower floor are a big help in not missing any of the fun.

 

Mayor Ezekiel Zeta (E. Scott Levin)

E. Scott Levin as Mayor Ezekiel Zeta, is the driving force with his bigger- than- life comedic quirks.  When he starts to describe something, he just can’t stop and seems to trail off into further and further outlandish descriptions of what he is trying to say. 

Camille Robinson (Brandon Lloyd) gets it on with Mrs. Zeta (Alba Cancel), the mayor's wife

Camille Robinson as Brandon Lloyd is his rival for his beautiful wife, though Zeta is too thick to realize it, and keeps sending her into his arms. Alba Cancel as the Mayor’s wife Valentine is mincing as her voice is sweet and a pleasure to watch and hear on stage

 

Yan-Can-Sing dances with Queenie (Lauren Woods) and Blondie (Amy Lawrence)

An unexpected show -stealer is Glen Fernandez as Yan-Can-Sing.  He plays an ubiquitous Chinese cook and servant tiptoeing around the stage, until the third act when his true power comes out.  Turns out he is a laldies’ man extraordinaire, who leaps and dances about the stage in topcoat, singing his heart out and releasing his fascinating high vibrato. 

The men's chorus praises their bodily functions

 The most hilarious piece in the show is the cowboy burlesque as they mock and send up women.

Hanna and the Sheriff are one hot item

But the story truly belongs to the two romantic leads, at odds throughout, teasing the audience. Their performances are so nuanced that no matter what they say or do, we can feel their underlying mutual desire. It is fun to watch them maneuver according to their pride and circumstances until they finally let their love win out. 

Nicholas LaGesse as Sheriff Danny Loewe, is a very attractive and charismatic actor who knows how to flirt with the audience.  His lovely baritone makes him a complete star package.  

Hanna Gladberry (Bevin Hill) takes Sheriff Danny Loewe (Nick LaGesse) for one helluva ride

 

Loewe’s love and the starring role of the “Widder” is the talented Bevin Hill as Hanna Gladberry. Her lilting voice and spitfire personality are a great match for LaGesse.  She dances with the best of them and also knows her way around the stage, strutting and posing at all the right junctures.  She is a true professional, and for sure she will continue to increase her repertoire and her reputation.

 

The city-slicker punsters (Christopher Anderson-West and Kyle Patterson)

So once again, thank you to Josh Shaw and Stephen Karr for great entertainment from POP-- and often with the possibility of having a private table with wine and appetizers as part of the mix. 

 There are two more nights for the Merry Widow Friday March 11 and Saturday March 12.  Nearly every show is sold out.  Looking ahead,  the next production, will be Salieri vs. Mozart.  This will be a double bill of original short operas of the two masters in competition as they were originally.  Of course comic librettist Shaw is sure to tweak the words in ways unthought of at the time of the original writings.  This will take place in the South Pasadena Library on dates ranging from April 16 through 24.  Be sure and get tickets early!

 

Yan-Can-Sing (Glenn Fernandez) cradled by lovelies

In September, the company is also looking forward to  Igor Strvinsky’s The Rake’s Progress September 17 and 18 at Occidental College’s  large Thorn Hall and with full orchestra.  For more information please go to PacificOperaProject.com.

 

Photos Courtesy of POP Opera

 

Georja Umano is an actress and animal activist.

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