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The Fairy Queen

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The Court Masquewas a unique and short-lived 17th century production craze. A slender plot was used as an excuse for song, dance, and spectacular stage effects. It was very nearly a Restoration version of Cirque de Soleil. The equally short-lived composer, Henry Purcell, was a master at creating the music for these productions and, arguably, his most famous is The Fairy Queen.

 

Based very loosely on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the text for The Fairy Queen is the work of an anonymous writer who modernized Shakespeare’s “messy” play to please the taste of his audience. So, what better way for Long Beach Opera (LBO) to find a text that speaks more directly to a modern audience than to approach Latino performance group Culture Clash to write an adaptation?

 

This new Fairy Queen takes place in a contemporary Las Vegas nightclub. Shakespeare’s Mechanicals are cut, but, in their absence, the rest of the cast and plot become more overtly comic. Puck (Marc Molomot) runs Club FQ (don’t forget to stress the plosive in the “Q”), though this Puck seems to be more a combination of Shakespeare’s Bottom and Oberon.

LBO’s Oberon is known as Ron (Cedric Berry), who arrives to enjoy a birthday getaway with his lovely wife, Tanya (Kimberly E. Jones). Unfortunately, as soon as her back is turned, he meets a very friendly Dancer (Alexandra Martinez-Turano), and they are discovered in flagrante by a furious Tanya. Puck gets the brilliant idea to use a love potion on Tanya to solve their problems. Unfortunately, Tanya drinks the potion too fast and falls for Puck.

Several other guests at the club mistakenly drink the potion and fall for the wrong person. Gay newlyweds, Lysander (Ryan Belongie) and Herman (Darryl Taylor), find themselves unaccountably in love with the uptight straight couple, Demetrius (Scott Brunscheen) and Helena (Martinez-Turano in a second role). They, too, have imbibed the potion and find themselves easily pairing off with the other couple.

Even the club’s resident drunken poet, Shakes (Roberto Perlas Gomez), quaffs a cup and falls for Puck. In fact, only Puck and Ron manage to keep their sanity by not drinking. Hijinks ensue, but eventually the love potion effects are reversed, and the chastened couples return to their proper mates. Or, do they?

Culture Clash’s libretto goes for broad humor and double-entendres throughout. The gay couple is not only played by countertenors, but they’re screaming stereotypes. Though, in fairness, the straight couple who can’t commit, are just as stereotypical. More puzzling is the choice to safely put both couples completely under the spell of the potion. Shakespeare keeps the conflict alive by having only two affected, which ups the confusion factor, and the potential laughs.

LBO’s Artistic Director, Andreas Mitisek, directs the production with, if anything, even broader comic strokes, which sometimes feels at odds with the music. But he keeps the action moving, and the characters clearly defined, even if he does have them attempt conga lines to Baroque music. He also welcomes a drone, which acts as a genuine deus ex machina,, and gets more applause than Miss Saigon’s helicopter.

The attractive cast throws itself into the plot’s shenanigans with wonderful good humor, and the singing is strong. Jones is a lovely Tanya, who impresses vocally as well as in her speaking scenes. Berry manages a commanding sound and a certain gravitas whether mounted by a nymphet or tearing into an interpolated song from Purcell’s score for Shakespeare’s Tempest. Molomot bounces around the stage in pink hair, channeling Bud Abbott’s hysteria and, miraculously, singing with style.

Martinez-Turano proves an expert comedienne with a silvery and secure soprano as both the Dancer and Helena. She also rocks her spandex. Brunscheen’s sweetly plaintive tenor was born to sing Purcell’s music, and he ably communicates all the passion and confusion in Demetrius. Belongie’s Lysander also finds a gentle sadness beneath the shtick, while Taylor’s Herman is the undisputed life of the party. LBO veteran, Gomez, neatly creates a character from thin air and delights the audience. An ensemble of four singers nicely fill out the sound and play an array of characters, though special note must be made of Zacharias Niedwiecki, who proudly displays his barihunk credentials, whether berating the conductor in a tank top, or doing handstands in gold lame short shorts and a leather harness during the second act’s brief flirtation with S & M.

Martin Haselbock conducts from the keyboard with elegance, energy, and an enviable transparency.

Beverly O’Neill Theater    January 22 – 28, 2017    www.logbeachopera.org

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.