BWW Review: The In Series Presents OPERETTA WONDERLAND: THE MAGIC OF VICTOR HERBERT at the D.C. Scottish Temple
With the holidays approaching, it is only appropriate to perform an operetta inspired by the beauty and magic of the season. The In Series' answer to one's yearning for holiday magic is Operetta Wonderland, which features music from composer Victor Herbert's extensive songbook. Many might be familiar with Herbert through his popular songs, such as "Toyland" and "March of the Toys" from Babes in Toyland, a Christmas-themed operetta, and "The Italian Street Song." Operetta Wonderland: The Magic of Victor Herbert, directed by Brian J. Shaw with musical direction by Carlos C. Rodríguez, showcases Herbert's musicality through a selection of both his popular and lesser-known songs. This production features the rich vocals of Kelly Curtin, Cara Gonzalez, Elise Jenkins, Andrew Adelsberger, Joe Haughton, and Bryan Jackson accompanied by Rodríguez on the piano. While the musical direction is strong, the production's flow and design sometimes distract from the magic of the music.
At first Operetta Wonderland begins to capture the holiday spirits by starting off with a pairing of the songs "Toyland" and "Hail to Christmas." The operetta then takes a dive towards exploring the depth of Herbert's songs about love. "I've Been Looking For The Perfect Man" and "I'm Falling In Love with Someone" are a few of the many love songs showcased during the production. Occasionally, Operetta Wonderland moves back towards Herbert's popular songs such as "The Italian Street Song" and "March of the Toys." By starting immediately with Christmas songs, one assumes that the production is learning towards a winter wonderland theme. The signs of this wonderland are there, but they are faint. The cast is dressed in winter clothes reflecting the fashion of Victor Herbert's time. There are hints of winter magic throughout the set including the presence of a snow globe sitting on top of the piano and snowflake projections. A climatic snow scene is set in front of a fall-like forest rather than evergreens as one might expect. The winter magic is eventually lost altogether. The real magic of this operetta lies in love songs sung beautifully by a talented cast of singers.
Love is in the wintry air throughout the production. The main highlights of Operetta Wonderland include such love songs as "Every Day is Ladies Day With Me," "Love Me, Love My Dog," and "Love is A Story That Is Old." Perhaps, the best love songs featured in Operetta Wonderland are the solos. '"Neath The Southern Moon," a solo sung by Elise Jenkins, is hauntingly beautiful. This song perfectly highlights Jenkins' delicate and clear voice. Another solo favorite, "Angelus," is sung by Cara Gonzalez, with great sorrow and emotion. "Angelus" graces the audience with a wonderful harmonization between Jenkins and Gonzalez. Bryan Jackson's solo of the waltz "Star Light, Star Bright" is top-notch. His warm voice projects a longing and desire for his distant lover. Among the popular songs, clear audience favorites are "The Italian Street Song" and "March of the Toys." Rodríguez plays "March of the Toys" in a solo instrumental with great precision. It is a treat to watch him move enthusiastically with every note he plays during this song. "The Italian Street Song" is an entertaining full cast number featuring the voice of Kelly Curtin. Curtin's range is remarkable as she belts each note with ease and grace. Overall, the cast handles Herbert's array of love songs with passion.
Operetta Wonderland: The Magic of Victor Herbert is a musical treat. If you are looking to experience opera for the first time, this is a great introduction.
Running Time: 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Photo caption and credit: The cast of Operetta Wonderland: The Magic of Victor Herbert. Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.