Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cinderella and Odd Couple Reviews - October 5, 2010

Images, Top to Bottom: Cinderella's ball gown and model of the Magnifico's house, both designed by Judith Bowden (http://www.pov.bc.ca/); Poster design for Langham Court Theatre's production of The Odd Couple: Female Version

1. We've been hearing quite a lot about the Pacific Opera Victoria's opening show of this season, Rossini's Cinderella. How does the production live up to its advance publicity?

When I began reviewing for CBC Victoria's On the Island I agreed to cover the POV’s season even though my area is theatre and not opera. Over the past four years I have come to learn more about opera and to appreciate it much more than before. I have enjoyed a great number of POV’s past productions, but I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good time than at the opening night of Cinderella last Thursday night. The reasons for this lie first in the universal familiarity we all have with the fairy tale Cinderella and second in the comic approach that composer Giachino Rossini and librettist Jacopo Ferretti took in creating this 1817 opera. All the elements of the story are here: the poor abused but lovely and innocent stepdaughter Cinderella (here called Angelina) who loves to read romantic stories in the cinders; her vain and selfish stepsisters and greedy and ambitious stepfather; a noble prince who in this version disguises himself as a servant in his search for his one true love; and a fairy godfather in this variation is a philosopher who calls on higher spiritual powers to help Cinderella triumph over adversity. Regular POV director Tom Diamond draws on elements of traditional British pantomime—including a number of exits and entrances through the audience and characters acknowledging both the audience and the fact that they are ‘performing’ this story with a nod and a wink. This works extremely well from the opening scene, where fairy godfather Alidoro opens a huge picture-book onstage and we see each main character walk straight out of its pages, right through to the final fairytale wedding’s happy ending. This playfulness continues throughout the show and gives the production a suitably light-heartedness without sacrificing any of the musical quality, with Victoria Symphony members sounding wonderful as always under the direction of conductor Guiseppe Pietraroia. The set and costume designs by Judith Bowden in her POV debut were outstanding …inventive and surprising and lovely to look at…I hope the POV will bring her back many times again.

2. What were some other highlights of the show for you?

Opera singers these days are trained much more as actors and this leads to strong acting as well as singing performances from all the leads in this show, which features a number of POV debuts. Newcomers Brian Stucki as the Prince, Tyler Duncan as his valet Dandini (who has the time of his life pretending to be the prince for a day!), and Marianne Lambert and Marion Newman as the wicked stepsisters were all most effective in both their singing and interpretation of their roles. POV regulars Terry Hodges as the Stepfather Don Magnifico and Chad Louwerse as the fairy godfather Alidoro both played their respective roles with relish and in great voice. But the showstopping performance of this production is seen in the title role of Angelina by Julie Boulianne. What a debut performance this was! Boulianne is heading to the Met next year as well as the Opera Comique in Paris and we in Victoria are lucky enough to be seeing a star on the rise in this coloratura mezzo soprano who sings this role so gloriously and with such accomplishment with this challenging material that the opening night audience waited to rise to their feet as one until when she entered for her curtain call. As a theatre person who is still learning about opera, I feel I caught a glimpse of the kind of particular joy an opera audience sometimes experiences when they see and hear a performance as fine as Boulianne’s and can say, “I saw her first” as they watch her rise in the ranks of great singers. Not to be missed.

3. Moving to Langham Court Theatre's production of the female version of Neil Simon's popular comedy The Odd Couple. Why would Simon write a female version of this play?

The Odd Couple was a huge hit when it opened on Broadway in 1965, was turned into an equally popular film with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon and then a TV sitcom series from 1970 to ’75 with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success, so Simon revisited the play 20 years later by rewriting it into a female version. Rather than Oscar Madison the sloppy and slovenly sportswriter who takes in his recently divorced and ultra-tidy and neurotic friend Felix Madison, this version has news journalist Olive Madison trying to live with separated housewife and high school friend Florence Unger. The buddies’ poker night in the original play becomes a girls’ night out Trivial Pursuit game in this version. And the date night with the British Pigeon sisters who live upstairs becomes a date night with the Spanish Costazuela brothers. In both versions, the humor lies in the always snappy and quick-witted dialogue Simon so capably writes and the growing impossibility of these two friends ever being able to live together.

4. And how did you feel about the production at Langham?

Neil Simon is a quintessentially New York playwright and it can be a real challenge for non-New York, or even non-American actors, to play these roles. The Langham Court production succeeds somewhat in making us believe these characters are New Yorkers, although the accents are wisely not over-emphasized by director Sylivia Rhodes. Shelly Superstein is a small and wiry and very suntanned Olive with an appropriate gravelly voice and Christine Karpiak plays the uptight Florence as constantly fussing, cleaning, cooking and worrying. The scenes between them work quite well, although I think there is more physical comedy for them to find in their characters throughout the course of the run. However, it is essential in this version that the Spanish brothers Jesus and Manolo be convincing and in here we are relieved to have these roles well-played by Brian Adams and Langham regular Wayne Yercha in what I found to be the funniest scene in the show, when they come for dinner and the misunderstandings run fast and loose amongst everyone on stage. The pace of the show is pretty good and may pick up as the company gets more comfortable over the next two weeks. This is not a stellar but is certainly a competent production that will keep you chuckling along if not laughing out loud to the misfortunes of two friends who are simply too opposite to make it work as roommates.

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