Reviews

Undercroft Opera Presents Puccini’s “La Rondine.”

By: George B. Parous
RondineUndercroft Opera is performing a Giacomo Puccini “rarity” this weekend at Carlow University’s Antonian Theatre - La Rondine (“The Swallow”), which hasn’t been heard locally since early 1982, when Pittsburgh Opera presented it here for the first time and the newspaper critics went to work panning it as weak operetta with few moments of importance. The work has never been considered one of the composer’s greatest efforts, in part because it is too often unfavorably compared to his Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, and so on. But historical fact makes it clear that he had no intention of making it one of his "grand operas" when he was originally approached to work on a piece more in keeping with the popular "Viennese" style of operetta. It has merits that would be considered praiseworthy if they had flowed from the pen of a lesser known composer, and after the opera premiered at Monte Carlo in March 1917, while war raged in surrounding European countries, the composer made a couple of revisions to his score in an attempt to broaden its appeal. But to this day, there is no official “final” version, since Puccini died in 1924 before he could decide on which revision was the last word. It didn’t reach the Metropolitan Opera in New York until 1928, partly due to the complications of the war, but has never played a particularly large part in that theater’s doings, and revivals there and elsewhere worldwide have been sporadic for the last century. Its comparative unpopularity is something along the lines of berating a Leonardo da Vinci painting that doesn’t measure up to the “Mona Lisa,” for while La Rondine may not be Puccini’s most shining achievement, it has musical beauties in the score that are worth more hearings than they receive. But, in fairness, to say that La Rondine is an underrated masterpiece of the composer wouldn’t be entirely true, either. Puccini composed the music to an Italian libretto Giuseppe Adami adapted from a German version by Alfred Maria Willner and Heinz Reichert. Originally set in mid-19th century Paris, the slight plot revolves around a “kept” woman in search of true love, her circle of acquaintances; her finding true love, and her desertion of it to save the young man and his family’s reputation (even though he doesn’t want to be saved). Of course, there are small side antics and bits of action that make the story more colorful, but not so many as to make great demands on audience appreciation or tax the concentration of the listener. Despite the large cast, most of the vocal demands are made on a few characters, mainly Magda, the leading soprano role. She is the metaphorical “Swallow,” on the wing in search of happiness. Undercroft’s trimmed production moves the action of the first two acts to Prohibition-era New York, while the third takes place on the French Riviera. There was a great deal of vocal talent on the stage last night. The young singers, colorfully costumed, performed their roles amidst minimalistic but adequately effective staging, and had a reliable and engaging conductor, Brian Gilling, to help them along when needed. While Undercroft’s orchestra produced a more consistent tone than on the one occasion I heard it play last spring, there were still a few rough spots, but Mr. Gilling smoothed them over to the best of his ability, and the players showed a decided improvement in unity and precision. A native of Boston, Mr. Gilling holds bachelors and masters degrees from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Music, and hopefully will conduct again in this city in the near future. It’s easy to spot a conductor who is a thorough musician, and Mr. Gilling is just such a leader. Because the opera tries the strength of only a few of the singers, the cast is able to remain largely intact for performances on three consecutive evenings and an afternoon. The program notes and Undercroft’s website don’t specify as much, but I suspect that the leads heard last night will perform again on Saturday evening, while Carolyn Forte (Magda), Emily Swora (Lisette), Jesse Lowry (Ruggero) and Sarah Marie Nadler (Yvette) will be heard Friday night and Sunday afternoon. The large ensemble last night (and for the remaining performances) was for the most part handled quite successfully by Joseph Andreola (Rambaldo, Magda’s “keeper”), George Milosh (Prunier, the poet), Caryn Crozier (Bianca), Stephen Kuhn (Périchaud), Naomi Berkey (Lolette), Amanda Lewis (Georgette), Takako Petek (Gabriella) and Namy Joseph Farah (the Butler), while two members did “double duty” – Paul Yeater (Gobin and Adolfo) and Benjamin Zaksek (Crebillon and Rabonnier). They were an entertaining group, and added to the enjoyment of the performance. Last night’s Magda, Emily Hopkins, brought to the role a strong, brilliant voice, particularly impressive in its upper register, and a smooth sense of legato that allowed her to soar to the higher flights with ease. She was becoming in appearance and made the most of the part’s slight acting opportunities. Shin-Yeong Noh was a delightful Lisette, the maid with singing aspirations. It challenged the imagination to hear such a beautiful voice sing of her failure as a singer! Everything said of Ms. Hopkins may be said in equal degree of Ms. Noh, and her role allowed for comic episodes which she handled quite amusingly. Claudia Brown, as Yvette, made the most that could be made of her role, and sang very effectively. William Andrews, in the role of Ruggero, sang with a pure tenor voice well suited to Puccini’s music, and showed to much better advantage than he did last summer in Strauss’ The Silent Woman. One or two spots were a trifle high for him to reach with ease, but overall his interpretation was effectively sung and well acted. He was at his best, vocally and histrionically, in the heart-broken bewilderment of Ruggero in the final act. A crucial Thursday hockey night in Pittsburgh may have had an effect on the opera’s attendance, which wasn’t very large. The opera is well presented, allows highly gifted young singers performance experience, and is well worth the reasonably priced admission. Patronage of the remaining performances is highly recommended. For tickets, please visit Undercroft Opera. The Production Staff for La Rondine Brian Gilling, Conductor; Seamus Ricci, Stage Director; Colin Farley, Chorus Master; Hyery Hwang, Vocal Coach; Karen Jeng Lin, Rehearsal Accompanist; Grace Lazos, Assistant Director and English surtitles; Shane Gillen, Assistant Conductor; Krista Ivan, Costumes; Michelle Engleman, Stage Manager; Garth Schafer, Lighting Design/Light Board Operator; Alexis Retcofsky, Light Board Operator; Neil Sederburg, Technical Director; Mary Beth Sederburg, Producer.

Violet

By: Brian Pope

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Front Porch Theatricals’ heavenly production of Violet has a lot of baggage. Johnmichael Bohach’s rustic, minimalist scenic design is primarily comprised of suitcases, chests, and duffel bags that the actors sit, sleep, and sing on. This concept is not only incredibly creative and whimsical, but it also artfully realizes the themes of travel and identity that are central to the musical. This show is the explosive kickoff to Front Porch’s summer season, which is being billed as “Journeys & Tall Tales”. Despite premiering Off-Broadway a little more than 20 years ago, the musical probably didn’t register on most people’s radars until it transferred to Broadway from a one-night production at New York City Center in 2014. Both outings received widespread acclaim including the Drama Critics’ Circle award for Best Musical and a slew of Tony Award nominations. By bringing together an exceptional group of artists all at the tops of their game in this production (which also marks Violet’s Pittsburgh premiere) Front Porch has cemented its reputation as Pittsburgh’s finest producer of musical theatre and the show’s legacy as one of musical theatre’s purest hidden gems. Bus Ride 4Violet, set during the late summer of 1964, takes you on a wild ride with a disfigured young woman of the same name as she journeys via Greyhound bus from North Carolina to Oklahoma to seek a life-changing miracle from a TV evangelist. Twelve years before, an incident with a wayward ax blade leaves her with a horrible scar on her face and a broken relationship with her father (Jonathan Visser). The extended trip introduces her to a host of diverse people and places including a hilariously talkative old lady (Becki Toth) and two handsome soldiers, Flick (Lamont Walker II) and Monty (Daniel Mayhak). Both men take a keen interest in Violet as her fiery personality and dark past unfold. As an African-American living in a difficult time in history, Flick understands the constant pain Violet suffers always being harshly judged at face value. Monty learns from Violet that he does not have to rely on his machismo and playboy antics to make real connections with people.

Magazine Beauty

When Violet finally reaches Tulsa, her steadfast faith in God is tested. She learns lessons that cannot be summed up by old clichés about beauty. Her truest journey begins at the show’s end. For the first time, it’s one entirely on her own terms with no clear destination. I know I commended writers Jeanine Tesori (music, also responsible for Fun Home) and Brian Crawley (book/lyrics, also responsible for A Little Princess) for not saddling their skillful adaptation of Doris Betts’ short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” with tired platitudes defining the “true” meaning of beauty, but I’m going to employ a few now. Like most clichés, these are just true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, in this case, that’s director Robyne Parrish. She deftly navigates Violet through its recurring flashback scenes while ensuring that each moment has equal visual and emotional impact. At absolutely no fault of Walker, Mayhak or their extraordinary voices, the love triangle their characters are entangled in with Violet just doesn’t work. Parrish allows that part of the story to shine and illuminates what emerges as the heart of the piece, the resentment festering between Violet and her late father. At my performance, you could hear a pin drop during the sequence where they sing “Look at Me” and “That’s What I Could Do”. Healing Meeting 3 Two women play Violet, one as an adult (Elizabeth Boyke) and the other at the time of the accident (Samantha Lucas). Like the many actresses before them who took on this role, including Sutton Foster, their raw and passionate performances subvert the idea of beauty being only skin deep. Without the help of complicated makeup effects, they must create the image of Violet’s mutilation in the minds of the audience as sharply as it exists in her own. Boyke is nothing short of a force of nature seamlessly pivoting from tremendous hope to profound despair as her character’s fickle fate plays out. Lucas’ haunting presence and command over an array of complex affects prove that she is perfectly cast as a girl wise beyond her years. Violet is disgusted by her appearance and lets everyone know it, but the work of these two great talents make it impossible to look away. Violet’s “imaginary” scar is also brought to life during the show through the reactions of the people she encounters on her trek. The hard working ensemble of Violet is more than up to the task of making themselves look good while making Violet feel bad. Erich Lascek and Gena Sims lead the gospel number “Raise Me Up”, which stopped the show multiple times over its nearly seven-minute runtime. At the end of this Violet’s intermission-less two hour run time, you’ll find that your heart has an invisible, deep, and permanent scar that matches the one on Violet’s face. Don’t make the same mistake she does. Don’t convince yourself that your heart is now broken or ugly because, as the preacher teaches her, a scar means that you’re healed. Violet runs at the New Hazlett Theater through May 28th. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

Ironbound

By: Yvonne Hudson
YT17-Feature-IronboundThe waiting in life takes up a lot of our time--waiting for the next big thing, the next job, the next person. Ironbound’s Darja reconfirms out that anyone who takes public transportation is captive to waiting. Her attachment to a significant bus stop represents her own continual anticipation of the right man and better times. City Theatre’s Pittsburgh premiere of Ironbound depicts an important slice of immigrant life in America. It reminds us that everyone on the bus has a story, a reality perhaps most magnified in the dense greater New York-New Jersey metro area. Ironbound zooms in on one woman who could be anyone, but Darja is inspired for playwright Martyna Majok by both her own Polish immigrant mother and the notable absence of working class women in contemporary plays. Rebecca Harris, in her 10th role with the company, captivates with impeccable realism as Darja. Harris is the constant force here along with a dark, menacing bus stop. Her solid and fierce portrayal is someone like many who endure wearing commutes to whatever job they can get to make rent while avoiding any unexpected financial catastrophes. They persevere and crave, as Darja says, “even the ugly jobs they don’t have no more.” This Polish immigrant cleans houses in an upscale community two buses away, struggles to make ends meet following the loss of her factory job. Darja’s own crises are not just about being alone; she could easily become homeless due to a bad choice or broken relationship, perhaps more recognizable in hindsight. [caption id="attachment_4791" align="aligncenter" width="3440"]Rebecca Harris as Darja Rebecca Harris as Darja[/caption] On stage for all of the 90-minute piece (intensely performed with no intermission), the actress is either alone or interacting with three male characters. Harris’ powerful performance impresses with raw and honest craft as a character who is remarkable in her stamina, resilience, and lifeforce. She weighs her options in relationships and finances, bargaining to try to somehow gain some enhanced security. City’s Artistic Director Tracy Brigden, who was eager to program this new play, said in the production news release that  Majok’s “unique point of view as the child of Polish immigrants ripples throughout her work. Ironbound is a truly American play—raw and alive from the very first words.” And we must agree as Ironbound so deftly depicts aspects of the immigrant experience that Brigden describes as “so vital to this moment in time.” Ironbound debuted in New York at Rattlesnake Theater in 2016 before Brigden took the wheel to direct its next production. Pittsburgh audiences will recognize the ramifications of losing an industrial economy. Brigden places the Elizabeth, New Jersey bus stop intimately in City’s thrust configuration.The centerpiece of Anne Mundell’s compact set is a giant graffiti covered steel girder appearing to pierce the top of the theater as it towers over the action, the litter, and a ubiquitous abandoned car tire. Lighting by Andrew David Ostrowski flashes from above as Eric Shimelonis’ sound effects are heard by the audience upon and arrival and continue to indicate the rattling of both New Jersey transit trains and traffic above and in in the house. If you know New Jersey and I-9, you can especially conjure the traffic, potholes, and smells. The stink of the paper factory where Darja once worked may be gone in this century, but the setting evokes the industrial Jersey of the late 20th century. [caption id="attachment_4792" align="aligncenter" width="4169"]JD Taylor as Maks and Rebecca Harris as Darja JD Taylor as Maks and Rebecca Harris as Darja[/caption] We wait with Darja at this dark and dirty bus stop where a lot happens but some things never change. As time shifts among scenes, her journey of relationships always brings her back to the bus stop near her former factory job and its associated memories. In several flashback scenes, her first husband Maks is sweetly played by JD Taylor. Darja’s backstory is built through their alternately hopeful and bittersweet encounters. In 1992, she is pregnant with their son Alex as Maks dreams of making music in Chicago. In his one scene with her, Vic, a young man played by Erick Martin, finds a battered Darja trying to sleep at the bus stop after her second husband has abused her. Vic provides an objective listening ear and a comedic rap. He reminds her that a shelter or motel room would be safer and offers some money to help her out. Pittsburgh’s Erick Martin’s Vic is the energetic parallel to her son Alex--the absent male in this version of Darja’s story. Martin is endearing in his portrayal of a kid who’s struggling with his sexual identity. [caption id="attachment_4793" align="aligncenter" width="4256"]Rebecca Harris as Darja and Erik Martin as Vic Rebecca Harris as Darja and Erik Martin as Vic[/caption] Don Wadsworth’s exacting dialect coaching supports Darja and Mak’s Polish slant. The characters’ sometimes muddled sentence structure also adds to the authenticity of Majok’s script along with her inclusion of some Polish. Costumes designed by Robert C.T. Steele aptly convey the look of the implied decades from Vic’s track suit and sneakers and Tommy’s geeky postman shorts. Ironbound reminds us how lives intersect–even if only for a few minutes on our respective commutes as everyone dreams and holds on to survive a new day. Closing City Theatre’s 41st season, Ironbound runs through June 4 with tickets starting at $15 for under 30 with generous discounts for many patrons (seniors, military, etc.) as well as a “pay-what -you-want” option for the Sat., May 27 matinee. Special audience opportunities include a post-show talkback on May 24 and another with the playwright on Thurs., May 25. Greenroom on second Fri., May 26 provides a $25 ticket that includes beverages and a post-show chance to hang out with the show’s cast and team. Click here for more information.  Photos courtesy of Kristi Jan Hoover

Anything Goes

By: George Hoover
anything goesAre you are looking for a lighthearted break from reality with quirky characters, great songs, and dance routines? The classic Cole Porter musical comedy Anything Goes is Delightful, Delicious, and De-Lovely. There are several versions of Anything Goes available to theater companies, with each offering a slightly different song list, running order and book (script) variations. This McKeesport Little Theater production uses the 1962 version, there is also a 1987 version and a 2011 Roundabout Theatre version as well, so don’t think you’re crazy if this is a bit different than you may remember. Unlike many musicals of its day, Anything Goes has a strong plot line full of twists and turns as you wonder who gets the girl and who gets the boy.  The later the version, the more fully developed the story line is. The musical is set on the S.S. American a cruise ship that is sailing between New York and England.  The voyage is packed with a comically colorful assemblage of passengers: Reno Sweeney, a popular nightclub singer and former evangelist, her pal Billy Crocker, a lovelorn Wall Street broker who has come aboard to try to win the favor of his beloved Hope Harcourt (who is engaged to another passenger, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh), and a second-rate con man named Moonface Martin, aka “Public Enemy #13.” Song, dance, and farcical antics ensue as Reno and Moonface try to help Billy win the love of his life. Anything Goes offers a fascinating stylized glimpse at American life in the 1930’s. It’s Broadway debut in 1934 was a year after prohibition ended and roughly at the mid-point of the Great Depression. Roosevelt was just elected president in 1933 and the mood of the country has shifted towards cautious optimism.  Attitudes regarding women, class structure and foreigners have slowly begun to change. Although you might be surprised to see how little has changed between then and now.  Odd as it may sound, this retrospective is more predominant in the latter Roundabout version than the earlier ones, but this is still worth observing. What community theater lacks in resources and experience, it often makes up for in enthusiasm. This production is no exception. Most of the scenes take place on deck, the main highway for characters coming and going. Director Dorothy Fallows scenic design makes use of two winglets on either side of the main deck that serve as staterooms and the brig. Getting the large cast on and off the deck often seems a bit contrived as secondary characters appear as needed for big musical numbers. The leads come to the production with various levels of experience and talent. It was interesting to see the diversity of age of the actors that embodies the true spirit of community theatre. Riley Tate is a lovely woman and carries off the somewhat older than she Reno Sweeney quite well. She has played Reno before and it shows. While this production’s musical numbers choreography is not as lush as might be expected, Tate dances with joy and grace. She shows great promise vocally. Ron Clawson’s Billy Crocker doesn’t have the good looks of Ryan Gosling;  but he has a good voice and pleasant delivery. Tim Tolbert’s portrayal of Moonface Martin was fully realized with entertaining expressions and gestures and a good voice. Sam Minnick’s Sir Evelyn Oakley has just the right restrained British character, flummoxed often by American sayings and culture. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Reno and Evelyn just isn’t there. Emily-Ann Stephens’ Hope Harcourt never quite explains why Evelyn and why not Billy. Julia Lodge is a triple threat as the ditzy sexpot Bonnie. Anything Goes features some of Cole Porter’s and musical theater's most memorable standards, including "I Get A Kick Out Of You," “It’s Delovely”, “Friendship”, "You're the Top," and of course, the title song. According to Linda Baker, President of MLT “This is one of the classic musicals that unfortunately not enough millennials have had the opportunity to experience.” So disconnect and go see it. Anything Goes continues it’s run at the McKeesport Little Theatre May 19th to 21st. Tickets available at http://mckeesportlittletheater.com Thanks to MLT for the complimentary tickets to a Broadway classic.

Peter and the Starcatcher

By: George Hoover
peterstarcatcher300x300You are correct, there has been a “boatload’ of Peter and the Starcatcher productions this summer, three in fact.  I must confess I did not see Little Lake or the University of Pittsburgh’s productions. I did see the Broadway national tour in 2014 and the Shaw Festivals production in 2015, both left me with the feeling of “meh”. This review of Stage 62’s charmingly clever production of Peter and the Starcatcher was for me a voyage of re-discovery.  It was as if I had never really “seen” the show before. Starcatcher is a comedy with some music, but not a musical. There are the requisite dancing girls, in this case mermaids, played pretty much mostly by boys. The opening number to the second act is hilarious. Without getting too much into the plot here (You can read about that in Nicole Tafe’s review of the Little Lake production in the PITR archives here) Starcatcher is the prequel to J.M. Barrie’s 1904 novel Peter Pan, about the boy who never grew up. The story: Lord Aster (J.P. Welsh) has been assigned by the Queen of England to insure safe transport of a treasure chest full of “starstuff” known to give anyone who possesses it the ability to realize his or her dreams.  Aster devises a plan to ship two identical chests on two different ships by two different routes to insure safe delivery. He dispatches his daughter Molly (Casey Duffy), a Starcatcher-in-training, on the ship Never Land and he takes the trunk with the real starstuff on the Wasp. Unbeknownst to Lord Aster and Molly, the trunks are switched by pirates before the ships set sail and Never Land holds the goods. The Never Land’s crew is actually pirates, led by Black Stache (Brett Goodnack) and in addition to the trunk with the real starstuff. The Pirates also have three orphan boys held prisoner in the bilge of the Never Land.  And so we set sail….. The thing that makes this production so special is the group of actors, all of them are Pittsburgher’s or graduates from our universities’ theatre programs. A few are in the early stages of their acting careers; many are very experienced having played many roles in multiple companies. What makes it work so perfectly is Spencer Whale’s creative vision and direction. The actor’s comedic timing, gestures and expressions seamlessly integrate together creating an ensemble that is a joy to watch as they are having such fun performing together. [caption id="attachment_4777" align="aligncenter" width="1633"]L-R Brett Goodnack, Nate Willey L-R Brett Goodnack, Nate Willey[/caption] Pittsburgh’s brilliant comedic actor Brett Goodnack as the silly and sinister Black Stache leads the ensemble. His stage presence keeps your eyes riveted to him and a smile on your face. Other standouts in the uniformly strong cast include Point Park graduate Nate Willey as the Boy who becomes Peter Pan. Cody Sweet’s portrayal of Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Brumbrake, captures the sweet caring woman with a beard and a twist who can raise a pirate’s flagpole. J.P. Walsh’s portrayal of Lord Aster conjures up the classic proper British explorer and caring father. Casey Duff’s Molly is an ageless girl full of hopes and dreams, eager to prove her worth and trustworthiness. The entire cast has double if not triple duty. The orphans, Prentiss and Ted, played by Jake Smith and Charles Buescher Rowell keep their characters in perfect sync as they switch back and forth. [caption id="attachment_4778" align="aligncenter" width="2452"]Nate Willey and Cast Nate Willey and Cast[/caption] Director Whale called on old friends and colleagues Nathan Mattingly and Ellen Pyne for the set design, reminiscent of ship sails and outfitted with a hoarder's treasure trove of props, flotsam, and jetsam.  Costume Design also by Pyne is spot on. Where a dozen actors with strong physical characteristics play a hundred roles, the costuming helps us identify their character of the moment. Black Stash’s look reinforces his silly yet frightful pirate nature and Molly’s enhances her character as a young girl just transitioning to a strong young woman. In the pit, percussionists Tony Tresky and Brendan Higgins work subtly; their background rhythms perfectly match the action without overpowering the actors. [caption id="attachment_4779" align="aligncenter" width="2450"]L-R Nate Willey, Casey Duffy L-R Nate Willey, Casey Duffy[/caption] As we were leaving the theatre, reflecting that this was one of the best shows we saw this season, I wondered how three companies had come to choose the same play to present this spring. Perhaps in troubling times, sitting together in a dark room watching silliness and wishing you never grew up is good therapy for us all. If you haven’t seen Starcatcher yet, this production is the one to see. If you have seen Starcatcher before, by all means this production is worth a visit. Come prepared to smile till your jaw hurts, laugh till your head hurts and be sure listen carefully so you don’t miss any of the great lines. Stage 62 presents Peter and the Starcatcher at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie, PA 15106  Performances Thursday through Saturday, May 11-13 and 18-20 at 8 pm, Sun. Matinees May 14 and 21 at 2 pm Tickets: Adults: $20, Students/Seniors: $15. Click here for more information.  Our special thanks to Stage 62 for the complimentary tickets.

Resonance Works Presents Verdi’s “Falstaff.”

By: George B. Parous
falstaff_headerResonance Works, collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh Department of Theater Arts, gave the first of two performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s final opera, Falstaff, last night, at the Charity Randall Theater in Oakland. The ambitious project offers an opportunity to hear the famous composer’s only successful comedy, which premiered at La Scala, Milan, in 1893, when Verdi was nearly 80 years old. He penned the sparkling and engaging music to a libretto that Arrigo Boïto adapted from Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” with a little of “Henry IV” added to the book as well. The story, set in Windsor, England, during the reign of Henry IV, tells the farcical tale of an aging and portly knight, Sir John Falstaff, and his thwarted attempts to relieve two married women of their husbands' money, their revenge, mistaken identities, young love, and a mirthful ending. Immensely popular in Italy and elsewhere shortly after the time of its premiere, the opera lost its audience appeal in a surprisingly short period of time, and fell into extended stretches of neglect. As the 20th century progressed, largely due to the efforts of the famed and influential conductor, Arturo Toscanini, Falstaff received numerous revivals, and today holds a respectable standing in the standard operatic repertory, but it never was, and probably never will be, as well known or popular as many of the composer’s more dramatic works. Various musical historians have pondered over the reasons for all this, while others have proclaimed the work as Verdi’s best. It probably isn’t his best, but it’s certainly one of his most entertaining operas, bubbling over with broad comedy set to delightfully orchestrated music that offers a number of opportunities for the display of beautiful voices. The contemporary staging and “modern day” costumes hardly take anything away from this production, since the color and atmosphere of Verdi’s music is so naturally Italian, so masterfully “grand opera” in style and flavor, that it suggests early 15th century England about as much as his Un Ballo in Maschera (“A Masked Ball”) fits its Colonial New England setting. It is also quite a feat that the staging and direction so successfully brings a rather large opera to a comparatively small stage, especially when the ensembles and boisterous action are considered. Happily, the text is sung in Italian (with English surtitles projected above the stage). [caption id="attachment_4771" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Benjamin Bloomfield (Falstaff) Benjamin Bloomfield (Falstaff)[/caption] Unlike the better known Verdi operas in several ways, the most surprising departure comes at the very start; there’s no “overture.” The orchestra sounds several vivacious bars and it’s off to the races. And what an orchestra it was that played last night. Reduced to a little over twenty pieces, the instrumental accompaniment was more than sufficient for the size of the theater, and consisted of highly skilled instrumentalists who did themselves and Conductor Maria Sensi Sellner ample justice. From the first note to the last, they played a major role in the success of the evening. They received a generous ovation from the distressingly slim audience, and deserved it. Vocally, the cast is one of uniform excellence. There were familiar faces on the stage, as well as a few who sang in Pittsburgh for the first time. Naturally heading the list of newcomers was Benjamin Bloomfield in the title role. He possesses a baritone voice capable of great power, but finesse and subtle nuances are at his command as well. He’s rather young to give a visual impression of the aging schemer, but his acting of the part was finely honed, funny, and in the character’s other unsavory traits, his make-up, costuming and demeanor more than negated his youth. [caption id="attachment_4772" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Brooke Larimer (Mistress Quickly), Kara Cornell (Meg Page), Natalie Polito (Nanetta), and Amelia D’Arcy (Alice Ford) Brooke Larimer (Mistress Quickly), Kara Cornell (Meg Page), Natalie Polito (Nanetta), and Amelia D’Arcy (Alice Ford)[/caption] Joshua Jeremiah, as Ford, is a Grammy nominated baritone also making his Pittsburgh debut in these performances. His voice is one of great strength and resonance, he possesses acting skills (both comedic and dramatic) to a great degree, and his appearance is commanding and quite agreeable to the eye. As his daughter, Nanetta, soprano Natalie Polito was the third newcomer, and proved a fine addition to the cast. Her voice is captivating, as is her stage presence and acting, and she sang “Sul fil d'un soffio etesio,” (“Now lightly borne from near and far”), probably the best known aria from the opera, charmingly, if somewhat cautiously. Amelia D’Arcy, as Alice Ford, gave a sterling performance. Her ringing soprano, lively acting, and facial expressions were positively delightful. Mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell, as Meg Page, seemed to “live” her role, as she always does, and was another highlight of the evening. As Mistress Quickly, mezzo-soprano Brooke Larimer displayed a richly hued voice and nicely timed comedic ability. With Mr. Bloomfield, she shared the well known “Reverenza” scene, in which Quickly lures the old knight with feigned respect further into her friends’ web of revenge and comeuppance he so richly deserves. A pleasant surprise was the young tenor, Benjamin Robinson, in the role of Bardolfo. He has gained materially since I last heard him a couple of summers ago. His voice has grown in strength and quality, he displays more confidence, and his facial byplay and acrobatic acting of the part were fun additions to an impressive vocal performance. His antics with Matthew Scollin, the reliable, versatile and powerfully voiced bass-baritone, as Pistola, were among the most entertaining highlights of the evening.Falstaff3 Tenors Christopher Lucier, as Fenton, the young man Nanetta loves, and Joseph Gaines, as Caius, the man her father wants her to love, were talented additions to the large cast, and the ensemble sang the small choruses quite effectively. The only thing missing from the performance were bodies in seats. The theater was maybe half filled. Now, more than ever, the arts need and deserve financial support. And this operatic endeavor on the part of Resonance Works most decidedly deserves capacity patronage. Only one more performance will be given, tomorrow afternoon at 3. Take Mom, a friend, anybody  - to a musical treat that they’re not likely to forget any time soon. Visit Resonance Works for tickets, a complete synopsis, cast biographies and more. The Production Team for Falstaff – Conductor/Producer, Maria Sensi Sellner; Stage Director, Stephanie Havey; Production Manager, Brennan Sellner; Stage Manager, Tina Shackleford; Scenic Designer, Gianni Downs; Lighting Designer, Kate Devlin Matz; Costume Designer, Karen Gilmer; Assistant Conductor, Jeffrey Klefstad; Chorus Master, Joel Goodloe; Rehearsal Accompanist, Uliana Kozhevnikova; Orchestra Manager, Ryan Leonard; Assistant Stage Managers, Rachel Sinagra and Cassandra Canavan;  Scenic Charge Artist & Assistant Scenic Designer, Megan Bresser. Photography - Alisa Innocenti    
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
By: Mark Skalski
Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water
By: Victor C. Leroi
Sive
By: Cayleigh Boniger
Tarzan
By: Brian Pope
Death of a Salesman
By: Eva Phillips
Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical
By: Stephen Arch
Peter and the Starcatcher
By: Nicole Tafe
Wife U
By: Jason Clearfield
The Summer King – The Josh Gibson Story
By: George B. Parous
True West
By: Brian Pope
What’s Missing?
By: Eva Phillips
4.48 Psychosis
By: Megan Grabowski
Wild With Happy
By: George Hoover
The Three Musketeers
By: Stephen Arch
Collaborators
By: Yvonne Hudson
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or The Most Popular American Play You’ve Never Seen
By: George Hoover
Lights Out
By: Jason Clearfield
Baltimore
By: Mark Skalski
Peter and the Starcatcher
By: Brian Pope
Oedipus Rex
By: George Hoover
Turandot
By: George B. Parous
The Guard
By: Mark Skalski
Sweet Charity
By: Yvonne Hudson
Daddy Long Legs
By: George Hoover
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
By: Alex Walsh
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By: Ringa Sunn
Dreamgirls
By: Kellie Gormly
Polish Joke
By: Stephen Arch
Forever Plaid
By: Mark Skalski
1984
By: Jason Clearfield
Findings
By: Brian Pope
Patience
By: George Hoover
Ragtime
By: Jason Clearfield
Big Love
By: Stephen Arch
Rust
By: Ringa Sunn
As One
By: George B. Parous
The Pink Unicorn
By: Mark Skalski
The Complete History of America (abridged)
By: Stephen Arch
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
By: George Hoover
Pump Boys and Dinettes
By: Victor C. Leroi
Woody’s Order!
By: Kellie Gormly
Twelfth Night
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Royale
By: Jason Clearfield
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
By: Mark Skalski
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
By: Kellie Gormly
Cabaret: The Musical
By: George Hoover
Richard the Lionheart (“Riccardo primo, re d’Inghilterra”)
By: George B. Parous
Into the Woods
By: George Hoover
A Christmas Carol
By: Mark Skalski
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical
By: Victor C. Leroi
A Musical Christmas Carol
By: Megan Grabowski
The Nutcracker
By: Claire Juozitis
A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas
By: George Hoover
The Lion in Winter
By: Isaac Crow
Unbolted
By: Eva Phillips
Lungs
By: Victor C. Leroi
Midnight Radio Holiday Spectaular
By: Kellie Gormly
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
By: Mark Skalski
Mr. Marmalade
By: Jason Clearfield
Between Riverside and Crazy
By: Steven Bick
The Rover
By: Mark Skalski
Three Days in the Country
By: George Hoover
The Sea
By: Eva Phillips
The Music Man
By: Megan Grabowski
Hair
By: Jason Clearfield
12 Angry Men
By: Mark Skalski
How I Learned to Drive
By: Meredith Rigsby
The Merchant of Venice
By: Yvonne Hudson
Salome
By: George B. Parous
To Kill a Mockingbird
By: Kellie Gormly
Yankee Tavern
By: Eva Phillips
Giselle
By: Chloe Kinnahan
Feeding the Dragon
By: Victor C. Leroi
Midnight Radio’s Night of the Living Dead N’at
By: Claire Juozitis
Barefoot in the Park
By: Victor C. Leroi
Prometheus Bound: A Puppet Tragedy
By: Yvonne Hudson
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By: Mark Skalski
Carrie: The Musical
By: Eva Phillips
The Who’s Tommy
By: Isaac Crow
Pride and Prejudice
By: Yvonne Hudson
Jekyll & Hyde
By: Kellie Gormly
An Accident
By: Yvonne Hudson
Trial by Jury and Gianni Schicchi
By: Nichole Faina
The River
By: Mark Skalski
Intimate Apparel
By: Eva Phillips
The Fantasticks
By: Isaac Crow
La Traviata
By: George B. Parous
The Playboy of the Western World
By: Jason Clearfield
Avenue Q
By: Eva Phillips
I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard
By: Victor C. Leroi
Hand to God
By: Yvonne Hudson
Titus Andronicus
By: George Hoover
The Toxic Avenger
By: Isaac Crow
PNWF Program D
By: Chloe Kinnahan
The Censor
By: Eva Phillips
Next to Normal
By: Mark Skalski
PNWF Program C
By: Victor C. Leroi
Beauty and the Beast
By: Mark Skalski
PNWF Program B
By: Eva Phillips
Wig Out!
By: Isaac Crow
Remains — A One Woman Show
By: Jason Clearfield
Shirley Valentine
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Comedy of Errors
By: Jason Clearfield
PNWF Program A
By: Megan Grabowski
Floyd Collins
By: Nichole Faina
A History of the American Film
By: Eva Phillips
This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
By: Megan Grabowski
Loot
By: George Hoover
Driftless
By: Mark Skalski
Peribáñez
By: Jason Clearfield
The Birds
By: Mark Skalski
Seven Guitars
By: Yvonne Hudson
South Pacific
By: George Hoover
Aida
By: Drake Ma
American Idiot
By: Isaac Crow
Jesus Christ Superstar
By: Drake Ma
Julius Caesar
By: Nichole Faina
The Hound of the Baskervilles
By: Isaac Crow
A Pirate’s Tale
By: Megan Grabowski
The Silent Woman
By: George B. Parous
Night Caps
By: George B. Parous
Come Back, Little Sheba
By: Jason Clearfield
Shrek: The Musical
By: Isaac Crow
A Midsommer Nights Dreame
By: Mark Skalski
Julius Caesar
By: George B. Parous
Anything Goes
By: Nichole Faina
Anna in the Tropics
By: Mark Skalski
Eff.UL.Gents
By: Megan Grabowski
Kiss Me, Kate
By: George B. Parous
Damn Yankees
By: Isaac Crow
Krapp’s Last Tape/Not I
By: Jason Clearfield
Church Basement Ladies
By: Mark Skalski
Bloody Hell
By: Mark Skalski
SummerFest’s Tour of “Carmen the Gypsy” is On!
By: George B. Parous
Judgement at Nuremberg
By: Jason Clearfield
Venus in Fur
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Theatre Festival in Black and White, Delivering Fantastically
By: Jason Clearfield
The Consorts
By: Victor C. Leroi
The Spitfire Grill
By: Isaac Crow
The 39 Steps
By: Isaac Crow
Undercroft Opera Sinks Its Teeth into Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
By: George B. Parous
The Lion
By: Drake Ma
Assassins
By: Drake Ma
The Giver
By: Yvonne Hudson
Cock
By: Drew Praskovich
Two Tales of Terror
By: Chloe Kinnahan
The Musical of Musicals
By: Drake Ma
Autism and the Arts: Bricolage Creates Sensory-Sensitive Immersive Experience
By: Jack Lake
Spring Awakening
By: Isaac Crow
Tru
By: Drew Praskovich
The Rake’s Progress
By: George B. Parous
Grease
By: Drake Ma
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
By: Isaac Crow
Laws of Attraction
By: Chloe Kinnahan
The Last Match
By: Isaac Crow
White Rabbit Red Rabbit
By: Drew Praskovich
The Master Builder
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Flick
By: Isaac Crow
The Barber of Seville
By: George B. Parous
Sister Act
By: Drake Ma
Sex with Strangers
By: Drew Praskovich
The Drowsy Chaperone
By: Isaac Crow
Disgraced
By: Isaac Crow
Miss Julie, Clarissa, and John
By: Yvonne Hudson
The Pirates of Penzance
By: Megan Grabowski
The Bluest Eye
By: Jack Lake
Sister’s Easter Catechism
By: Jack Lake
The Full Monty
By: Drew Praskovich
“27” (“Twenty-Seven”)
By: George B. Parous
First Date
By: Isaac Crow
Saturday Night Fever
By: Drake Ma
Guys and Dolls
By: Drake Ma
Some Brighter Distance
By: Yvonne Hudson
Mother Lode
By: Megan Grabowski
Ciara
By: Isaac Crow
Little Women
By: George B. Parous
The Sisters
By: Megan Grabowski
Oliver Twist
By: Drake Ma
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
By: Nathaniel Quinn
Macbeth
By: Drew Praskovich
Scared of Sarah
By: Megan Grabowski
Yinz’r Scrooged
By: Nathaniel Quinn
Chickens in the Yard
By: Nathaniel Quinn
The Rocky Horror Show
By: Megan Grabowski
Sunset Baby
By: Isaac Crow
A Servant to Two Masters
By: Isaac Crow
The Wild Duck
By: Drew Praskovich
Così fan tutte
By: George B. Parous
1984 (Midnight Radio)
By: Isaac Crow
Oliver
By: Drake Ma
Brainpeople
By: Drew Praskovich
Into the Woods
By: Drake Ma
The Night Alive
By: Jack Lake
Iolanthe
By: Drew Praskovich
Nabucco
By: George B. Parous
Altar Boyz
By: Drake Ma
Death of a Salesman
By: Megan Grabowski
The Diary of Anne Frank
By: Drew Praskovich
Dulcy
By: Drake Ma
Stand Up Horror
By: John Nau
Choir Boy
By: Isaac Crow
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Program D
By: Drake Ma
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Program C
By: John Nau
The Winter’s Tale
By: George B. Parous
Games of the Mind
By: Drake Ma
Dead Accounts
By: John Nau
King Lear
By: John Nau
Educating Rita
By: Isaac Crow
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Program B
By: Drew Praskovich
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Program A
By: Megan Grabowski
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Staged Readings
By: Megan Grabowski
Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Staged Readings
By: Drake Ma
The Light in the Piazza
By: Isaac Crow
Exit Laughing
By: John Nau
Be My Baby
By: John Nau
The Heart of Shahrazad
By: Drake Ma
The Winter’s Tale
By: John Nau
The Merchant of Venice
By: Jack Lake
Kinky Boots
By: Isaac Crow
Outside Mullingar
By: John Nau
It Could Be Any One Of Us
By: Chloe Detrick
Capriccio
By: George B. Parous
The Wedding Singer
By: Isaac Crow
Strength and Grace
By: Chloe Kinnahan
Sharon’s Grave
By: Isaac Crow
Medea
By: Isaac Crow
“New Kind of Fallout” – World Premiere
By: George B. Parous
The Drowsy Chaperone
By: Megan Grabowski
How To Be a GoodPerson™
By: John Nau
Sherlock’s Last Case
By: Isaac Crow
Much Adoe About Nothing
By: Chloe Detrick
Damn Yankees
By: George B. Parous
Gypsy
By: Isaac Crow
The Marriage of Figaro
By: George B. Parous
Brewed
By: John Nau
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
By: Chloe Detrick
Man of La Mancha
By: Isaac Crow
Lucky Guy
By: John Nau
Out of This Furnace
By: Dale Hess
The Ruling Class
By: Chloe Detrick
Mary Poppins
By: Isaac Crow
Buyer and Cellar
By: Isaac Crow
How the Other Half Loves
By: John Nau
The Best of Everything
By: Justin Sines
Knickers
By: Tyler Plosia
Midsummer
By: Corey Hawk
The Last Five Years
By: Isaac Crow
Fences
By: Chloe Detrick
Saints Tour
By: Isaac Crow
Detroit
By: John Nau
American Falls
By: Justin Sines
Someething’s Afoot
By: John Nau
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
By: Mara E. Nadolski
“Daughter of the Regiment” (La fille du régiment)
By: George B. Parous
The Whale
By: Sarah Beth Martin
My Way
By: John Nau
Peter Pan
By: Mara E. Nadolski
Othello
By: Isaac Crow
A Streetcar Name Desire
By: Jack Lake
Lunch Lady Cabaret
By: John Nau
Lovecraft’s Monsters
By: Chloe Detrick
All the Names
By: Chloe Detrick
The Rocky Horror Show
By: Isaac Crow
Oblivion
By: Justin Sines
Endless Lawns
By: Tyler Plosia
The Disappearing
By: John Nau
Carmen
By: George B. Parous
How I Learned What I Learned
By: Jack Lake
Animal Farm
By: Dale Hess
Elemeno Pea
By: Jack Lake
The Mikado
By: Mara E. Nadolski
Young Frankenstein
By: Isaac Crow
Ghosts
By: Isaac Crow
The Boyfriend
By: Isaac Crow
The Wiz
By: Chloe Detrick
For the Tree to Drop
By: Jack Lake
Wolves
By: Dale Hess
Boeing, Boeing
By: Isaac Crow
Existence and the Single Girl
By: Justin Sines
Prussia: 1866
By: Jack Lake
Brahman/i
By: Isaac Crow
Mr. Joy
By: Chloe Detrick
My Fair Lady
By: Jack Lake
The Little Mermaid
By: Chloe Detrick
Rodelinda
By: George B. Parous
Or
By: Isaac Crow
Christmas Star
By: Chloe Detrick
Urinetown
By: Isaac Crow
It’s a Wonderful Life
By: Jack Lake
The Santaland Diaries
By: Isaac Crow
A Streetcar Named Desire
By: Isaac Crow
L’Hôtel au Purgatoire
By: Isaac Crow
Evita
By: Jack Lake
Avenue Q
By: Isaac Crow
As You Like It
By: Isaac Crow
Otello
By: George B. Parous
Murder for Two
By: Justin Sines
SCarrie: The Musical
By: Jack Lake
The Last Day of Judas Iscariot
By: Justin Sines
The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs
By: Jack Lake
Outside Mullingar
By: Isaac Crow
The Glass Menagerie
By: Jack Lake
Macbeth
By: Isaac Crow
Sons of War
By: Isaac Crow
Doubt: A Parable
By: Justin Sines
Of Mice and Men
By: Isaac Crow
Bus Stop
By: Corey Hawk
Parade
By: Isaac Crow
Tamara
By: Isaac Crow
Romance
By: Isaac Crow
Fixing King John
By: Corey Hawk
“Ariadne on Naxos” (“Ariadne auf Naxos”)
By: George B. Parous