Review - A Night At The Operetta: It's Outta Here!

On the night when baseball's all-stars were blasting dingers into the bleachers of Yankee Stadium, the cast of Scott Siegel's A Night At The Operetta, was having their own home run derby on the stage of Town Hall, knocking melodies by Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg and Rudolf Friml out of the park. And in both cases, the crowd frequently went nuts.

As it did last year, A Night At The Operetta kicked off Town Hall's Second Annual Summer Broadway Festival, a no-brainer choice when Siegel noticed the wild enthusiasm that always greeted operetta selections during his ultra-popular Broadway By The Year concerts. As a regular at Siegel's shows I'll confirm the rock star reception that follows whenever a well-trained singer sinks his or her vocal chops into these rich and demanding melodies that were a staple of Broadway for the first three decades of the 20th Century.

Scott Siegel, as usual, provided introductions and illuminating information from his stage left podium (Like how the "Students Marching Song" from The Student Prince was also known as "Let's All Be Gay Boys.") and Dan Foster directed the swift and entertaining evening. Music director Fred Barton was at piano, leading a four piece ensemble in his excellent arrangements.

Most of the evening's selections were performed in the acoustically friendly auditorium without microphones ("Sound design by God," as Siegel likes to say). Certainly such assistance isn't necessary when you've got people like Alexander Gemigniani, who opened the show with Herbert's "The Time, The Place And The Girl," putting a dapper spin on Henry Blossom's lyric of the romantic frustrations of bad timing. His baritone was put to prettier use in "Adrift On A Star," from the Lysistrata operetta The Happiest Girl In The World,which combined a lullaby melody from Jacques Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman with new lyrics by Yip Harburg. Combining with Gemigniani on that duet was Karen Murphy, who showed off a spirited comic coquettishness in a pair of Herbert/Blossom offerings, "Kiss Me Again" and "If I Were On The Stage."

If you have two seats for South Pacif- (as Comden and Green might have put it) while Tony-winner Paulo Szot is on vacation, you needn't fear you'll be missing out on a thrilling vocal performance. Szot's understudy, William Michals, completely wowed the Town Hall crowd with "The Gypsy Baron Song" (Johann Strauss II / George Mead), cracking his whip, regaling with footwork and infusing his rich baritone with a rousing bravado. Later on, his joyously impassioned "Thine Alone" (Herbert/Blossom) showed a more romantic side.

"Spiel tenor" is a label not often heard on Broadway (think Threepenny Opera sung legit), but John Easterlin provided a breathtakingly dramatic example with Franz Lehar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz," using the original German lyric by Victor Leon, Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Lohner.

Speaking of The Threepenny Opera, the Lucy Brown from the last Broadway revival, sopranist Brian Charles Rooney teamed up with tenor Bill Daugherty for a duet of "Only A Rose" (Friml / Brian Hooker / W.H. Post) with Rooney singing the female part in its original key. Though both men were certainly vocally up to the number, the choice to have them standing at separate microphones and barely acknowledging each other while singing denied them a chance to put any real feeling into their performances. It would have been nice to have a same sex love duet on the program. They certainly provided feeling for their other pieces; Rooney singing in a deep-sounding tenor for "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" (Herbert/Blossom) and "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise" (Romberg / Oscar Hammerstein II / Frank Mandel / Laurence Schwab) and Daugherty, with his light, reedy voice sweetly embracing "Indian Summer" (Herbert / Al Dubin), ending with a lovely rise into his head voice.

Christine Andreas' mellow soprano brought a still sophistication to Noel Coward's, "I'll Follow My Secret Heart," while ingénue Jennifer Hope Wills prettily ventured "To The Land Of My Own Romance" (Herbert / Harry B. Smith). Lisa Howard was charming in the bouncy and comic "Your Photo" (Friml / Otto Harbach) and Milla Ilieva, whose lineage might have made her a Czarina by now if it weren't for that pesky revolution, was warmly dramatic in Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach's "Yesterdays."

That eccentric song and dance man, Jason Graae, one of the funniest musical comedy performers around, was dapperly attired in tails, a cane and a top hat for Franz Lehar and Adrian Ross's "Tres Parisienne," rattling off one-liners and merrily entertaining the delighted crowd. Backing him up was the quartet of Eric Sean Fogel, J. Austin Eyer, Billy Harrigan Tighe and Ben Franklin.

Just before the finale (the full company singing Coward's, "I'll See You Again") the trio of Easterlin, Michals and Wills combined for a beautifully blended "Hill of Dreams" from The Song of Norway. As Siegel explained, this musical telling of the career of composer Edvard Grieg opened on Broadway in 1944 and American audience who first heard this inspirational ballad were undoubtedly thinking of their loved ones fighting overseas.

The Summer Broadway Festival continues Monday with Broadway's Rising Stars, a concert featuring young talent hand selected from New York's universities and music schools. If this year's crop is anything like last year's, we're in for a terrific time. The following Monday the festival closes with a new edition of All Singin', All Dancin' and, again, if it's anything like last year...

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy: Top: William Michals; Bottom: Jason Graae with Eric Sean Fogel, J. Austin Eyer, Billy Harrigan Tighe and Ben Franklin




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