BWW Review: MASTER CLASS at Brick Road Theatre

BWW Review: MASTER CLASS at Brick Road Theatre

"Domination. Collaboration. Assets.

Know your limitations.

Never move your hand, unless your heart follows it.

Just listen. Everything is in the music."

I first read these words in the Terrence McNally play when I was a vocal performance major in college, experiencing a vocal master class weekly as part of my studies. These words are now ruminating through my mind since seeing the sublime and powerful production of MASTER CLASS at Brick Road Theatre Thursday evening.

MASTER CLASS is a fictional account of the master classes opera diva Maria Callas conducted at Juilliard in the 1970s. The play centers around an aging Callas as a pedagogue to vocal students. Though she is critiquing, coaching {and sometimes belittling} her students into grander artistic performances, she often retreats into memories and recollections of her own career glory days, her volatile relationships, rivalries and her intense affair with Aristotle Onassis.

Brick Road Theatre is fast positioning themselves as a theatre of the highest quality and artistic expression, with productions showcasing some of the best talent local to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This is no more apparent than in the case of the phenomenal, tour de force performance of Diana Sheehan in the role of Maria Callas.

Sheehan holds the audience in the palm of her hand from the opening moments of the play, as she addresses them directly, reminding them "No applause, we're here to work" to her final words uttered before exiting the stage in the plays last moments. This play will simply not work onstage without a Callas that masterfully dominates and consumes her space, and Sheehan gives us a brilliantly constructed, complex and passionate Callas. Her performance is perfection, and will no doubt take its place as one of the best stage performances in the DFW area in 2017.

A favorite moment for me occurred during the first act, when the subtle lights turned red hot and purple on Callas, lost in a memory monologue depicting an argument between Maria and Onassis. As Sheehan turned her strong profile to the side, clad in a lovely brunette wig (deftly designed by Logan Broker), I gasped out loud, as I felt like I was beholding the Maria Callas in front of me, her angular jaw pronounced and her fiery tongue spewing Italian. Moments like this full of strength and fire permeated the play throughout both acts.

Of course, at the heart of this play, is the music, both played by the accompanist Manny (Bruce Greer) and sung by the students Sophie (Nancy Lopez), Tony (William Whitmire) and Sharon (Danielle Estes). There is not a weak link in this cast; each actor is at the top of their game.

Greer is a consummate pianist and his tender and effacing portrayal of an accompanist working with Callas is spot on. Each student shares the stage with Callas in a unique way. The sweet and lovely Sophie is searching for approval and instruction, tenderly portrayed by Lopez with a fresh innocence and authenticity.

As a somewhat stereotypical tenor Tony, Whitmire sings the famous Puccini aria Recondite Armonia from Tosca with honey dripped tones and seamless panache. Danielle Estes gets some of the best laughs of the night as Sharon, the headstrong and confident soprano who isn't afraid to tell Callas what she thinks. Her rendition of the extremely difficult aria Vieni T'Affretta is punctuated with power and gusto-a magnetic performance. Tyler Cochran makes the most of the role of the stagehand, making the audience laugh with his every single entrance and exit.

Martin's masterful direction permeates every pore of this production. Martin's vision is clear and Susan White's lighting, John Ahrens' costumes, as well as the sound and set design all integrate together seamlessly.

Lest you think a play involving opera and the arts is not for you, think again. MASTER CLASS speaks to the trials, sacrifices, and backbone it requires to live the life of the artist. This play's message of the importance of artistry and creatives in our world has never seemed more timely.

A music director and friend was seated behind me in the audience, and I think she said it best: "Everyone needs to see Brick Road Theatre's production of MASTER CLASS. You have tonight, tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon, and then it's gone. You've been warned."

MASTER CLASS plays at the Brick Road Theatre in Plano, TX through Sunday, March 26th. For tickets, go to brickroadtheatre.org


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From This Author Sarah Comley Caldwell

Sarah Comley Caldwell Sarah Comley Caldwell is a singer, actor & writer based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She has toured nationally and internationally with various musicals, as (read more...)

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