Monday, June 26, 2017

Ghost the Musical - Old Log Theatre

Last weekend, some of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers gathered at the Old Log Theatre to take in their new production of Ghost: The Musical

Before you ask--yes, it is based on the 1990 movie that starred Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze as Sam and Molly, a cohabiting couple in which the boyfriend (Sam) dies and then has to save her (Molly) from his murderer.

The stage version, with book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote the movie's screenplay, and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard (cowriter and producer of Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill), premiered in England in 2011 and opened on Broadway in 2012.

The film of Ghost is still a cultural touchstone. You know, "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers, romantically messy pottery scene, "I love you", "Ditto", and a single, precious tear rolling down Demi Moore's perfect cheek.

Mollie Fischer/Frank Moran
Photo Credit: Old Log Theatre
However, full disclosure: The movie never did a thing for me. Want a romantic comedy about love after death with great music? Try Truly, Madly, Deeply with Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson, complete with cello/piano duets and true, realistic love and grief. However, here's a tip: Don't call it the "Thinking Person's Ghost" to someone who likes Ghost. They get offended.

Anyhoo, back to Ghost: The Musical. Directed by Eric Morris, and featuring a surprisingly racially diverse cast, the show was diverting and pleasant to watch. But similar to the movie, it's not a show that spoke to me. There simply isn't enough there there.

The musical seems to be relying on the audience's knowledge of the movie to shortcut the story. When Sam dies, it's hard to feel any emotion at Molly's loss, as the story focuses on Sam realizing he's still around as a ghost. The music, mostly forgettable, doesn't add any emotional resonance. Despite being well-acted by a cast of engaging performers, the actors were undercut by the lack of character.

Caitlynn Daniels/Heather McElrath/Emily Janson/
China Brickey. Photo credit: Old Log Theatre
Which brings me to Heather McElrath as Oda Mae. How can you have this kind of powerhouse role and not write her at least two show-stopping, roof-raising numbers? Heather is so amazing, and it was sad to see how the musical underuses her character, as well as the characters of Clara and Louise.

That said, the Old Log is a lovely place to see a show, out in the woods of Excelsior, and the staff at the theater were completely wonderful. I hope to have the opportunity to see more substantial material there in the future, material that is more worthy of the skilled direction and acting.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Don Giovanni - Skylark Opera Theatre at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis

Dear Skylark Opera,

In regards to your recent production of Don Giovanni, presented in partnership with Angels & Demons Entertainment and performed at the The Woman's Club of Minneapolis:


I could not be more pleased that one of my all-time favorite companies is back and better than ever. 

I've loved Skylark Opera since they were NorthStar Opera, and their summer productions have always been a highlight of my theater summer. As a lover of opera and musical theater, operetta hits my sweet spot beautifully, and Skylark Opera has created some gorgeous productions over the years.

Sadly, most of their productions pre-date this blog, but they live on warmly in my heart: 2014's gorgeous Candide, 2013's The Mikado (in partnership with Mu Performing Arts), 2011's fantastically cast On the Town, and 2009's The Desert Song, which was stunning. I could SO go on, thanks to Skylark Opera's Past Production list. Ooh, Wonderful Town with the Baldwin sisters, and a beautiful She Loves Me. Okay, I'm done.

Things have been a bit challenging for Skylark Opera in past years, and the Star Tribune wrote a great summary of their travails and their resurgence. Understandably, they are moving away from operetta and towards more opera productions, but if Don Giovanni is any indication, they are heading in a marvelous direction.
Gabriel Preisser as Don Giovanni (veramarinerstudio)
Mozart's 1787 opera Don Giovanni is based on the legendary character of Don Juan and "brings humor and tragedy" [to] "the essentially grim story of a serial seducer who escapes all retribution except death" (thanks, DK Opera Eyewitness Companion!). 

The original libretto was by Lorenzo Da Ponte and my favorite sassy opera book comments that "the great thing about Mozart and Da Ponte's take on the story is that the opera's music and text are somewhat more complicated: the don can be seen as a truly oversexed, amoral hell-raiser, a randy young guy who is merely having a good time, or a boastful creep; he does not consummate any sexual act during the opera--it's all hearsay, flirting, and bluster. Maybe." (Weep, Shudder, Die by Robert Levine).

However, Gabriel Preisser (of Angels & Demons) and Robert Neu (of A&D and Skylark Opera) have written a completely new translation, which fits in beautifully with the 1930s time period and the gorgeous setting of Woman's Club of Minneapolis.

Andrew Wilkowske (veramarinderstudio)

The opera starts in the lounge of the Woman's Club, with staff passing hors d'oeuvre, and a conveniently located bar. Don Giovanni himself (Preisser) is already wandering about, looking appropriately louche. 

Want to know the whole story of Don Giovanni? I recommend checking out the Met Opera's synopsis. (And NOT on your phone during the show while you're in the front row, bald man with glasses with woman with dark topknot and white sweater. People, man.)

Here's your TL; DR of Don Giovanni. 

Act One: Donny G--playah extreme--'seduces' Donna Anna. Her dad, the Commendatore, challenges Don to a duel, which Don wins. Anna demands her fiance avenge her dad's murder, then Don's ex Elvira shows up, pregnant. Meanwhile, Don's bestie Leporello fills us in on all the haps. Then a wedding! Don is all over Zerlina (the bride) and gets rid of Masetto (the groom) temporarily. Elvira shows up and is all, 'Girl, don't even,' with Zerlina. Anna figures out that Don killed her dad, there's a party and masks and a gun.

Act Two: Don and Leporello disguise themselves as one another and seduction, singing and confusion ensues. Then we're at a cemetery and the Commendatore's statue haunts Don. More singing, more confusion, and then the statue appears. Bad news for Donny G as he refuses to repent and is consigned to hell. And we're out.

Andrew Wilkowske and Tess Altiveros.
Leporello/Donna Elvira fanfic anyone? (veramarinerstudio)
The performers are all amazing, and the voices are universally exquisite. Although it can be occasionally challenging to make out the words, to hear these beautiful voices in such an intimate setting is truly a gift. There is NOTHING like intimate opera.

Gabriel Preisser is a marvelously smooth and semi-sleazy Don Giovanni. Andrew Wilkowske, who I tend to adore in everything, is a delightfully humorous and touching Leporello. And he plays guitar in a lovely scene with Tess Altiveros, who is a perfectly gorgeous Donna Elvira. Altiveros handles the role of the wronged woman with wit, strength and considerable charm. Benjamin Sieverding as Masetto and the Commendatore has not only impressive hair, but is genuinely chilling in the last scene as the Commendatore. Quinn Shadko, Karin Wolverton and David Blalock also provide wonderful performances, as does the six member ensemble. And can I just say: Preisser's Wilkowske impression is ON POINT.

So this is all to say, even if the opera had been performed in a traditional setting, it would have been beautifully done. But it's being performed at The Woman's Club, which was built in 1928 and has history seeping from every cornice and corner. The opera ranges through several floors of the building, from the lounge to the ballroom to the dining room and into the theater. Your ticket price comes with the aforementioned hors d'oeuvre, as well as some intermission nibbles, and a lovely after-opera dessert. Plus, the opportunity to wander about in the beautiful Woman's Club building.

I would urge you to go see this, but I'm pretty sure the remaining performances are all sold out. Which bodes well for the future of Skylark Opera. Yay!!