Review: THE MATCHBOX MAGIC FLUTE at Goodman Theatre

Director Mary Zimmerman’s whimsical, fun-sized MAGIC FLUTE with 10 actors and 5 musicians runs through March 24, 2024

By: Feb. 28, 2024
Review: THE MATCHBOX MAGIC FLUTE at Goodman Theatre
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Director Mary Zimmerman returns to the Goodman with the whimsical and inventive THE MATCHBOX MAGIC FLUTE. Zimmerman’s adaptation of Mozart’s iconic opera is lively and accessible; this would be a great introduction for those new to the opera. I formally studied THE MAGIC FLUTE in a musical theater history course in college, and I still thoroughly enjoyed it (though I think the run-time could still be trimmed some, even at its current two hours and fifteen minutes). This is an utterly fun, visually delightful MAGIC FLUTE — and Zimmerman’s choice to stage the show in English (with some modern-day quips in the material) makes it easy to digest. Zimmerman’s design collaborators ensure it’s a visual marvel, too: Todd Rosenthal’s set is full of clever tricks that evoke the ethereal fairy-tale landscape, Ana Kuzmanic’s costumes are colorful and showcase an array of luxurious fabrics, and T.J. Gerckens’s lighting mirrors the light and shade in Mozart’s score. Amanda Dehnert and Andre Pluess’s music arrangements for the 10-member ensemble and five musicians capture the beauty and joy in Mozart’s music, as well. While it’s not the same as listening to THE MAGIC FLUTE in a large opera house with a full orchestra, the creative team captures the majesty and magic.

The acting is fun and fanciful throughout the show, with the actors really leaning into the comedy. I think the female vocalists far outshone their male counterparts on the whole, however, and strong vocals are crucial to deliver Mozart’s rich, complex score. The major exceptions are Keanon Kyles, who has an extensive opera background, in the role of the malevolent king Sarastro, and Russell Mernagh as his sidekick Monostatos. Kyles has a rich, deep voice that’s ideally suited for the role, and Mernagh has a tuneful musical theater voice that works well (he also shows off significant comedic chops). While Billy Rude captures the daffy, lovestruck nature of leading man Prince Tamino,his vocals are unmemorable. Likewise, Shawn Pfautsch is a splendid comedian as Tamino’s half-bird, half-human friend Papageno, longing for his Papageno. But Pfatusch’s vocals are likewise unexceptional; I wished for more richness in his tone and vocal delivery. 

When it comes to vocals, THE MATCHBOX MAGIC FLUTE really belongs to the leading ladies. Emily Rohm is resplendent as the Queen of the Night. Though she’s a musical theater performer by trade, Rohm’s clarion voice is pitch-perfect for this incredibly difficult vocal role. She gorgeously delivers the signature staccato runs in the Queen of the Night’s famous aria; her delivery is jaw-dropping and her clear, high voice contrasts magnificently with Kyles’s deep vocals (the Queen - Sarastro vocal contrast is key for a successful MAGIC FLUTE). Marlene Fernandez has a crystalline soprano marvelously suited to her role of Princess Pamina, the Queen’s daughter and apple of Tamino’s eye. Fernandez’s soprano is truly fitting for a princess, but she also has great fullness and power to her tone. Reese Parish harmonizes beautifully with the rest of the ensemble as the Spirit, guiding Tamino and Papageno on their way to rescue Pamina from Sarastro’s clutches. 

Lauren Molina, Monica West, and Tina Muñoz Pandya have beautiful harmonies as the Queen’s three ladies in waiting. It was a particular treat to see Molina return to the Goodman after her leading role as Eileen in Zimmerman’s WONDERFUL TOWN (2016). Molina has an additional opportunity to showcase her wry comedic timing and lilting soprano as Papagena. 

This is overall an inventive and purely fun execution of Zimmerman’s vision for this MATCHBOX MAGIC FLUTE. The ensemble works well together to bring this iconic story to life, and it’s easy to be swept up in the visual fantasy and, of course, Mozart’s lush, iconic music. 

THE MATCHBOX MAGIC FLUTE plays the Owen Theatre at Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, through March 24, 2024. Tickets are $35 - $105. 

Photo Credit: Liz Lauren


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