BWW Review: ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO Skillfully Sets Mozart's Opera in Star Trek's Final Frontier
Pacific Opera Project boldly goes where no opera company has gone before in a Star Trek-themed production of ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO: POP puts their zany spin on Mozart's kidnapping caper by setting it in space... the final frontier. Klingons, slave girls, and all your favorite characters from the original Star Trek series sing and dance their way through Abduction accompanied by a spectacular 27-piece orchestra conducted by POP co-founder Stephen Karr.
The production is filled with vocal fireworks featuring some of the most thrilling arias and ensembles in all of opera. The new English libretto, written by artistic director Josh Shaw who also directs the POP production, takes the action from an 18th century harem in Turkey and places it Stardate 14-20.27 on the hereto unexplored planet M113.
The plot of Abduction is simple: two women, Lt. Constanza (the exquisite soprano Shawnette Sulker, modeled after Star Trek's Uhura) and Blondie (green bikini clad Claire Averill, modeled after Susan Oliver's famous turn as an all-accommodating Orion slave girl) have been captured and placed in a harem by the warmongering Klingons, led by Chancellor Salim (the truly menacing Gregg Lawrence in the only non-singing role in the opera). Lawrence brings his Klingon knowledge and understanding on their mindset to the show, having performed as Col Gorak in the Star Trek - The Experience show in Las Vegas. With his overpowering glares, it's no wonder his fellow Klingons and most of the imprisoned slave girls cower in his presence. But not everyone does.... And Klingons love a challenge.
Salim has set his sights on the shapely and intelligent Constanza, favoring her above all others in his vast harem, all beautifully dressed in the sexy possibilities of the universe by Maggie Green whose spot-on authentic costuming for the Star Trek-themed cast lifts the production out of fantasy and into reality onstage - right down to the unnecessary "red shirt" who Trekkers will immediately know is done for the minute he transports to the surface, and Klingon weapon of choice, the Batleth, incorporated into much of the ensemble choreography with great flare.
Another Klingon, Osmin (Phil Meser, expertly adding clever bits of physical humor to his singing) is after Blondie, but she, like Constanza, is in love with another and turns down his advances. Director Shaw and Conductor Karr are an incredible team and will keep you laughing at the Klingons botched seduction attempts, so much so that you may not have time to read or even notice the libretto which is projected just above the proscenium arch. This is not like any opera text you have ever heard and it generated laughs from the entire audience due to the comical and overly sexual nature of Shaw's new English libretto.
The women's suitors arrive on the scene and attempt to free them from their captors. The new libretto is heavy on laughs and is sure to quote nearly every catch phrase and iconic line from the much-loved sci-fi series. But not to worry if you are not a Trekker and have no knowledge of the inside references and jokes placed throughout the opera. The story is complete unto itself, so don't worry if you fail to understand the laughs from the rest of the Trekker-filled audience.
And speaking of comical, the opera begins as we meet Constanza's suitor and ship's Capt. James T. Belmonte, the incredible tenor Brian Cheney, who studied Capt. James T. Kirk for the original series to a tee, right down to his over-the-top male ego mannerisms. Cheney also has a star turn when he arrives to rescue his beloved, dressed as Star Trek's Engineer Scotty, right down to his thick Scottish accent which Cheney plays for all the laughs he can muster.
And what would a Star Trek-themed show be without Spock? In fact, the final projection of the show is of Leonard Nimoy, the one-and-only original pointy-eared Vulcan who recently passed away. It was fitting tribute to a man who lived long and prospered, bringing the voice of reason to the emotional humans her encountered.
Robert Norman, however, has added a bit more sensual sexuality to Mr. Pedrillo, even though Spock only chased women during his Pon-Farr mating season. Flashing the Vulcan split-fingered hand salute at every chance he gets, Pedrillo struggles to remain friendly with the Klingon Osmin to gather insider information to assist with the abduction. But he must be very careful. You see, Pedrillo is there to capture his true love who is also being pursued by the much larger and incredibly more violent Osmin who watches over her like the hawk that he is. Of course poor Pedrillo can barely keep up with the sexpot Blondie, and Averill's attempt to seduce Norman is riotously hysterical with the poor Vulcan unsure how to react to her advances - except with his half that is definitely so human.
But can Pedrillo and Belmonte successfully abduct their women from the Klingon harem? Surely you do not want me to give away the plot, do you? Let's just say it all hinges on a carefully weighed decision by Chancellor Salim when the pairs of lovers are caught together trying to escape.
POP has assembled an all-star cast for their biggest production to date, and the three sold-out shows certainly reflect the popularity of Star Trek as well as opera fans in Los Angeles. I am sorry to say there have been no additional performances added after this weekend, a fact I hope will soon be remedied by Josh Shaw and Stephen Karr as I know once word gets out, this marvelous production would continue to sell out for months at the El Portal or anywhere else it is staged. Live long and prosper!
ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO performances are March 6 and 7 at 8pm and March 8 at 3pm at the El Portal Theatre located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets range from $15-50 but may be hard to come by this weekend. Hope for the best and try the El Portal Box office at 818?508?4200 or www.pacificoperaproject.com
Photos by Martha Benedict
Phil Meser and Brian Cheney
Gregg Lawrence and Shawnette Sulker
Claire Averill, Robert Norman and harem ladies
Claire Averill and Robert Norman
Gregg Lawrence, Shawnette Sulker, Brian Cheney
Brian Cheney and Robert Norman battle Klingsons
Brian Cheney and Robert Norman plot the abduction
CW from top left: Claire Averill, Shawnette Sulker, Brian Chaney, Robert Norman plan their escape
The Klingons capture the four trying to escape