Directors and theatre companies have been adapting and tweaking the works of William Shakespeare for centuries. Alterations run the gamut from changing the setting and characters genders to modernizing the language. Sometimes the core story has morphed, for example, Romeo & Juliet begat West Side Story. Imagine if you could take a story concept and write it in the style of Shakespeare. Elizabethan English, in verse form with iambic pentameter rhyming schemes and his typical comedy conventions; the buffoon, the snooty royal, women dressed as men and missed identities. Theatre, just as the Bard would have written it. Shakespeare’s Loves Labors Lost, first published in 1598, ends with the death of the King of France, leaving the other characters future in limbo. It has long been surmised that a sequel had been written by the Bard, but alas it has never been found. Scott Kaisers’ Love’s Labor’s Won could be that sequel, set near the end of World War I, just as the armistice is about to be signed. Thematically, it asks the question “Will love survive the brutal war?” Many of the characters from Lost make the transition to Won. For a memory refresh, they are Ferdinand (Christopher J. Essex), the King of Navarre, the country in the center of the conflict and about to be divided. He has taken a three-year oath of celibacy and sobriety, encouraging his friends to do the same. Princess Isabelle of France (Kennedy McMann) arrives on the scene and causes that oath to fly out the window. She is a no-nonsense talented politician. She has lost her father in the war and also her purpose. Her position keeps her silenced, but she is just waiting to leap in and save the day. Dumaine (Chase Del Rey) who is not the cleverest of the bunch. Decorum is not his thing but affection towards his crush Kathrine is, along with his other desire- for wealth. Kathrine (Myha’la Herrold) is Isabelle’s closest friend. She is beautiful and graceful, yet possesses and inner strength. She views Dumaine as a money hunger hypocrite but she loves him anyway. Berowne (Christian Strange) is the ambitious class clown of the group all the while searching for a sense of stability in a war-torn world. His love Rosaline (Aubyn Heglie) who can verbally joust with the best of men. A woman of action, she calls Berowne a fool when he professes his love for her. Longaville (Kyle Decker) has been locked up in the Embassy’s dungeon for being a spy. Of all the characters, he has the greatest sense of and respect for humanity. He has also signed up for the oath but has found a loophole, by proclaiming his love, Maria (Eleanor Pearson) is a goddess. Maria is calm and collected, but ultimately brokers the deal to finalize the armistice and restore all their relationships. Costard (Jordan Plutzer) is the foot soldier, wounded in battle and worse for wear. With a bad eye and a bad leg on his left side, he always seems to be searching for the right direction. He adds the comic relief to what would otherwise be very sad times. Rayquila Durham plays the jazzy Jacquenetta, his love interest. The playwright, Scott Kaiser, has written several books on Shakespeare and another play Shakespeare’s Other Women: A New Anthology of Monologues. He clearly knows and understands the Bards writing style and conventions. He has created a very watchable and enjoyable play. Some of the rhymes are a bit over the top, but hey why not. Perhaps the double entendre is a bit overdone at times. The characters have depth and complexity with the ultimate outcome of the story in doubt until the very end. CMU has a well-deserved reputation for recruiting top talent. That talent with a master director really shines in this production delivering rich well-crafted performances. The university posts no cast bios, so it’s a guess as to their path to CMU, past experience or whether they are undergraduates or grad students. Regardless you can see bright futures for them as actors. Two standouts are Jordan Plutzer’ Costard for his comedic skills and timing along with Rayquila Durham’s as Jaquenetta for her exquisite singing voice. The Scenic Design by Fiona Rhodes looks as if a grand marble staircase was lifted from one of Pittsburgh’s old mansions, or perhaps the Carnegie Museum. The single set design conveys the essence of a country on hold in wartime. The intersecting point of the character’s lives. Priceless works of art, initially secured and sequestered have come unwrapped as the war raged on, just as relationships have come undone over time. Kudo’s to the painting artists and crew. Natalie Burton’s costumes convey the almost post great war era. Men in their uniforms, although not always military, and women with that soft flowing radiance that leads into the era of the flapper. In the opening scene, Costard’s uniform tells you everything about the time and place of the play, before the first word is spoken. Anthony Stultz’s score and Sound Design for Jaquenetta’s songs at the close of Act II nicely and understatedly foreshadow the world of post-war France. Leaving the theatre and thinking about were these young actors and designer’s careers would take them, we overheard two young women walking behind in animated conversation. “The men were stupid and stubborn, but the women, they ended the war”. A fitting sentiment for these times. Carnegie Mellon University Drama’s production of Love’s Labor’s Won at the Phillip Chosky Theater, Purnell Center for the Arts has a performance on Saturday, November the 18th at 8 pm. Performances resume after Thanksgiving, November 28th through December 3rd. For tickets visit http://drama.cmu.edu/box-office/loves-labors-won/ Thank you to CMU Drama for the complimentary tickets.
Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center presented their third junior production, James and the Giant Peach. Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book, this production features students from grades seven through nine, along with featured dancers. It is an hour long show with no intermission. James and the Giant Peach is about a young boy, James, whose parents were killed in a tragic accident with a rhino - leaving James to live in an orphanage. That is until his two selfish aunts are granted custody, and he is moved out to live with them and their schemes to get rich. Upon arriving, James meets the magical Ladahlord who guides him to make a potion that will bring full power to whoever digests it. But then things go wrong, and a giant peach grows from the dilapidated peach tree, leading to gigantic adventures. Walking into the Center, still to this day, continues to take my breath away. Once you walk through the double glass doors, you are greeted by an open foyer with a high-arching ceiling. Typically, during events, refreshments will be served, a gift shop booth to purchase Center or Charter School clothing, and a small table with coloring pages and crayons for the little ones. A cute attraction outside the Main Theater is the cardboard cut-out of a peach with two face-shaped holes for anyone to take a picture with. Although I have been a student here, my excitement never dwindles each time I enter the grand building. [caption id="attachment_5985" align="aligncenter" width="656"] James and his aunts[/caption] A lot of the times I could barely hear and understand the actors while they were singing and speaking. Their voices would be quiet - almost in a hushed tone - as if they were voicing out to the audience, and not into the mics attached to their foreheads. Although, after a few moments, their voices would become clear and crisp, indicating an issue with the sound that was not yet resolved before the actors went onstage. Nicholas Vanhorenbeck, who played Grasshopper, could have been a bit more clear and concise with his speaking and singing parts. His voice was very quiet and shy, which made it difficult to hear and understand what he was saying. I am unsure if this was first night jitters, or not. But, I would have liked for him to have belted out his words more confidently. Professionals always say that you know you are doing well when you feel embarrassed – so just run with it. It is common, though, to experience nervousness when performing your first big musical. Although, Vanhorenback’s counterparts, Hannah Post (Ladybug) and Clare Rectenwald (Spider) performed with astounding voices that were almost soothing at some points. Even though these two are one of the eldest of the cast, being ninth graders, I was taken aback by their precise singing. Each note seemed to be on key, and their voices never wavered. Sydney Clay, who played the Matron Nurse, needed more expression for her role. During the times that she had a speaking part, she seemed she was uninterested in performing that part, within the play, or in general overall. When she did speak, she was monotonous and didn’t try to add any changes in tone or facial expressions to give the character a more three-dimensional feel. It’s always exciting to feel the actors’ excitement to be performing onstage at a young age. I’m sure with more practice and being in more plays will help her improve. Tyler Pintea, who played Earthworm, had such an enthusiastic performance. Even though this is supposed to be about James, hence the name of the musical, Pintea stole the show with his humorous acting and confident tone. The audience was laughing until they were teary-eyed during “Plump and Juicy” where Pintea danced around the stage while he sang of being the best snack for the seagulls. Laughter always erupted when he would scream, wiggle his body, and flaunt his behind. [caption id="attachment_5984" align="aligncenter" width="656"] James (in vest) and cast members[/caption] Olivia Dempsey (Spiker) and Sophia Curry (Sponge) both had these odd accents that made their parts hilarious at times. When they would sing, they still kept that strange accent within it. Once again, being very impressive for freshmen in high school. They also handled a small accidental incident when Curry dropped a can of whipped cream. Instead of panicking and making a show of it, she kept on acting as though she had never dropped it. Although, it was enjoyable how Curry kept spraying mouthfuls of whip cream into her mouth. A really creative aspect of this play was when they demonstrated the peach growing bigger and bigger on the tree. Some actors stood underneath the cardboard branch and opened up a few umbrellas in intervals. It was a cute and unique way to express the growth of the gigantic peach. All of the character’s costumes had a sort of 50s or 60s era spunk to them. The costumes were full of bright colors and cute little pins that adorned frilled jackets. It brought light to what would be seen as a bleak situation. Though the rhino, played by Luke Brahler and Tyler Johnston, was simply a blanket thrown over two actors, with a few pots put together to create the head. It may have been intriguing and filled-in more to have seen an all over fabric costume (like those two-person horse ones) or even a cardboard cut-out that an actor moved around. Despite the actors all being younger, they showed a level of matureness within this junior production. They were able to work together as a team with the leaders of the Center, and were treated as though this was a true Broadway show. A strong amount of confidence and eagerness poured from the souls of these young minds as they performed in this show. You can see James and the Giant Peach at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Pennsylvania from November 17-19. Tickets range from $15, $18, and $20 and can be purchased online at lincolnparkarts.org. Photos courtesy of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center.
It has been said that musical theatre and opera are the two most collaborative art forms. Actors, singers, dancers, designers, musicians, choreographers, and directors must work together in real time to create the work of art. If your passion is opera, you must find a like-minded group of individuals to collaborate with, unlike the more solitary work of a painter. For those whose passion has not become a professional career, community theatre and opera community provide a vehicle to express their art and passion. Undercroft Opera’s mission is to “create a community for singers and orchestral musicians by offering performance experience to emerging and seasoned local artists and developing audiences through both innovative and traditional operatic productions.” Closing out Undercroft’s 11th season with a wildly varied and unique offering of two one-act operas, The Impresaria and Djamileh, display both their commitment to the mission and the company’s versatility. The Impresario, or Der Schauspieldirektor was composed in a day as part of a contest by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who is arguably the most renowned figure of late 18th-century opera. Mozart describes it as "comedy with music" and it is viewed as one of the most playful of his works. Undercroft has updated and adapted the story and characters to the 1950s. The traditional male role of the impresario has been switched to be a woman, hence the title shift to Impresaria Set in post-war Vienna, famed soprano turned director Francesca Zeller is starting a new theatrical company. But funds are tight and her assistant Buff comes up with a tried but true solution. Get an eager actresses’ sugar daddy to finance the tour! The said actress is the not so young anymore Alura Pierce. She auditions with a long Noel Coward piece. As she finishes, an aspiring young singer arrives to wow Francesca and Buff, but she comes with way too many demands for a wannabe. This sets off a seemingly endless parade of aspiring actresses and actors all who desire a larger and larger cut of the non-existent budget pie. Finally, two sopranos arrive, duel it out with different arias that, turn into a catfight for bragging rights as to who really is the diva. Once that is “settled”, the fight over salaries breaks out again. Francesca, who cleverly demonstrates why she is The Impresaria, turns it all around and the company comes together to celebrate their art in the final song. As operas go, this interpretation of The Impresario is heavy on dialogue and light on singing. That’s too bad as the auditions involving singing are entertaining and well done as opposed to those that are just belabored readings. No schauspieldirektor worth their salt would let those take up so much of their time in auditions. Anna Singer (formerly WQED host and recently seen in Pittsburgh Festival Operas’ Sweeny Todd) makes an excellent Impresaria and gets to show off her singing chops in the opera’s first scene. Rob Hockenberry’s and Mary Beth Sederburg’s direction can’t quite find purpose the growing masses of hopefuls on stage with little to do as the auditions wind their way to the dueling soprano’s in this “odd duck” of an opera. The singers all have strong voices, clarity is sometimes difficult to discern in the acoustically live auditorium in Seton Center. Conductor Hyery Hwang (Ball State University) has an excellent command of her musicians and brings out the beauty of Mozart’s score. The orchestra is marvelous and underutilized in this performance. The second presentation of the evening is Djamileh is an opéra comique in one act by Georges Bizet. The opera begins at the end of the day the caliph Haroun (William Andrews) reclines and smokes a hookah in his Cairo palace, with his servant Splendiano (Zach Luchetti). The conversation turns to Haroun’s lover Djamileh (Mary Beth Sederburg), who is actually his slave girl. As is his standard practice, Haroun trades in his lover at the end of the month for a new model. Djamileh’s month is up and therefore she must go. Splendiano confesses to Haroun that he loves her and would like to keep her for himself. Haroun says not to worry; “he is not in love with her, only with love itself.” Djamileh however loves Haroun. The slave merchant, Mervin, brings the prospective new girls in to dance for Haroun, and he chooses his new concubine. Splendiano comes up with a scheme to confirm Heroun is not in love with Djamileh. He will dress her as the new girl. If she fails to win Heroun’s heart, she will be available to Splendiano. Heroun eventually recognizes her and therefore Splendiano has lost out. Undercroft calls this is a “stylish evening of one-act operas galvanized by Diva Dynamism.” Are slave girls taken as lovers on a monthly upgrade cycle truly representative of girl power? There were some interesting glitches with the auditorium lights during the Impresaria, but the actors, singers, and musicians paid it no heed. It was distracting but not disastrous. Tonight’s evening featured excellent singers, a great conductor, and an accomplished orchestra, a tribute to the quality of opera and musical talent in the Pittsburgh area. Undercoft Opera's performances of The Impresaria and Djamileh are at the Seton Center Auditorium, 1900 Pioneer Ave in Pittsburgh on November 17th and 18th at 7:30 pm and November 19th at 2:00 pm. For tickets visit https://www.undercroftopera.org/community/tickets/ Thanks to Undercroft for the complimentary tickets.