Chicago Theatre Review
Oh, Bliss, Oh, Rapture!
Do you want to know how a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta should look and sound? Light Opera Works has the textbook answer to that inquiry in a new, sumptuous presentation, now being revived in Evanston (their first production of this classic was back in 1981). Everything that today’s audiences have come to expect from this musical comedy of manners can be found in this stellar production. A lush, 26-piece orchestra, a large cast of highly-accomplished actor/singer/dancers, a beautiful, detail-oriented set and costumes, with everything perfectly directed and choreographed by Artistic Director, Rudy Hogenmiller. This witty, whimsical love story, set aboard one of Her Majesty’s finest warships, delights in poking fun at Britain’s class system, their blind patriotism and the inequities of how one rises to positions of authority.
When this wickedly humorous operetta first opened in 1878 at London’s Opera Comique it remained so popular that it ran for 571 performances. The show became an international sensation and it continues to be a staple among community and educational theatres, alike. It ranks with Gilbert & Sullivan’s top three operettas (along with “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Mikado”) and is always a popular addition to any theatre’s season of musical offerings.
One of Chicago’s theatrical treasures and legends, James Harms returns to Light Opera Works as Sir Joseph Porter. This artist is truly an actor’s actor, mining every ounce of silliness from Gilbert’s libretto and lyrics and providing audiences with another delightful, lovable characterization (his recent Don Quixote and Fagin remain as some of Light Opera Works’ finest performances). Indeed, Hogenmiller has wisely staged Harm’s first entrance in one of the show’s most hilariously memorable comic bits. Mr. Harms alone is worth the price of admission, but there’s more to recommend this production.
Young Northwestern graduate Dane Thomas lends his astounding tenor, comic timing and dance ability to the role of Ralph Rackstraw. He’s matched by Roosevelt University master’s student Sarah Kelly as his love interest, Josephine. Both talented young singers have performed with Chicago’s Lyric Opera and effortlessly caress Sullivan’s soaring melodies and Gilbert’s sharp dialogue to the audience’s pleasure. Ms. Kelly sometimes slides over her consonants making audiences question what she just said/sang, however her vocal prowess more than make up for this.
Michael Cavalieri brings a wealth of experience and talent to the role of Captain Corcoran and Dawn Bless makes a fetchingly funny Little Buttercup. Ryan de Ryke, whose vocal bliss and comic timing are a plus, appropriately hams it up as the villainous Dick Deadeye. Light Opera Works‘ newcomer Michael Roemer greatly impresses in his solo work as the Boatswain’s Mate. The entire ensemble electrifies, including Maggie Clennon Reberg as Sir Joseph’s busybody Cousin Hebe, who is as captivating as she is amusing. The sheer vocal talent and power that washes over Roger L. Bingaman’s impressive-sounding pit orchestra is unbelievable.
This stunning production, bedazzled in Darcy Elora Hofer’s crisp, nautical costumes, set against Adam Veness‘ beautifully designed and executed warship, leaves the audience simply breathless with glee.
“Well, hardly ever!”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Additional information concerning this and other area productions is available atwww.theatreinchicago.com.