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theatre reviews

Volume 15/Issue 26

Trodding the Boards.GIF



A lthough French composer Leo Delibes lived a charmed, al though short, life, he is best known for his full length ballet, Coppelia, and the opera, Lakme, with its charming, faux oriental melodies, which the New Orleans Opera Association recently presented for two performances at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre of the Performing Arts. This reviewer experienced the second of the two performances.

Lakme is the daughter of Nilakantha, an Indian Priest and, as such, is likened to a "vestal virgin" to her father's god, Brahma. She must be kept pure. Like Madama Butterfly, when East (Lakme) meets West (Gerald, a British military officer), sparks fly. Daddy vows vengeance, stabbing Gerald, who is taken by Lakme to a secret hiding place deep in the woods where she poisons herself in order to die with him, but her mysterious medicine revives him-she has no antidote for herself. Along the way, she makes beautiful music, since she is also a street musician (here think "Kismet"); in fact, it is her singing ability the father uses to root out her lover, and it is, specifically, the bell song, this opera's "hit", with its gorgeous melody, that does the trick.

Acquiring the services of Elizabeth Futral, a Covingtonite who stands on the cusp of international operatic fame, to sing this glorious role, was a true coup de theatre. Ms. Futral could not be faulted in her portrayal-both her lovely form and visage coupled with her dynamic coloratura made her's a definitive Lakme. Indeed, the distaff side of the cast were all, to a woman, excellent: Kathleen Hegierski as Lakme's handmaiden who joins her in the opera's other lovely tune, a first act duet; Melissa Marshall, New Orleans' latest operatic whiz kid, as Gerald's WASPy jilted fiance; Karen Schowalter's Rose, Ellen's friend; and, Melissa Parks' Mistress Benson, the girls' chaperone.

It was the men, specifically Gregory Stapp's wobbly bass in the role of Nilakantha and, to a lesser extent, the sometimes harsh, jarring sounds emanating from the throat of tenor Daniel Hendrick as the lovelorn Gerald, that let the air out of the balloon and kept the experience earthbound and Nirvanah-free. Both men did, however, compensate for their vocal faults by acting up a storm, or at least a tempest.

Gerald's friend, Frederic, was portrayed by a more sure throated James Maddalena, and New Orleans' own John Giraud's Hadji likewise contributed to the plus side-both men charmed with full throated golden baritones.

Klauspeter Seibel conducted the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra which rendered Delibes' music ethereally, aided admirably by Carol Rausch's crackerjack chorus. Director David Morelock kept things moving smoothly through scenic designer G. Alan Rusnak's lushly verdant sets (with the exception of the Act II market-not enough room for the chorus, supernumeraries and the Dance Players of Covington who covered Delibes', and French opera's, de rigueur second act ballet only adequately-with cacophonous ankle bells adding to the confusion).

Lost In Yonkers

R ecently, Director Keith Briggs attempted to recreate his ear lier triumph of Neil Simon's Pulitzer prize winning Lost In Yonkers at Rivertown Rep, this time at his present business address, Le Petit Theatre, with decidedly mixed results, even though he assiduously recast some of the local actors who had contributed to that earlier, Big Easy award winning production; that is, the adult actors. He had to find a new brace of boys to play the benighted brothers in this rather dark episode of Simon's continuing semi-autobiographical canon. More time and effort should have been invested in these two youngsters who must carry the brittle, New York comedy if it is to succeed. And in order to carry it, they both must be understood. Unfortunately, 12 year old Joey Bullock, as Arty, was self conscious, ill-at-ease, and under rehearsed and garbled many of Simon's surefire comic lines. Jay Buller who played his older brother of the same name was much more at ease and easily understood even through a New York accent.

Set in 1942, in the apartment above the Kurnitz Kandy Store dominated by the irascible Grandma Kurnitz (Lois Winter Crandell), her son, Eddie, the father of Jay and Arty, brings his sons to live with their scary grandmother while he hits the road to make some much needed money. With an old maid aunt, Bella (Yvette Hargis), who is mentally retarded, the domineering, cold, unloving grandmother, Uncle Louie (Chad Keller), a bagman, and Aunt Gert (Kathy Riess), yet another dysfunctional offspring of Grandma Kurnitz (she talks while breathing in), these two youngsters are truly "lost" in Yonkers.

Of the adults, Yvette Hargis, with the meatiest role, sparkled; Lois Crandell was much too stern and unyielding and took forever to enter and exit-hobbling the comic pace, while E. J. Killeen adequately imparted the exposition. Chad Keller cut a dapper figure as a Damon Runyonesque gangster while Kathy Riess added much needed comedy with her breathy vocals.

Yet another show at Le Petit was not ready technically for its opening night. Not only were there numerous lighting gaffs, but at one point the curtain got tangled on the set and a whole scene was destroyed while backstage minions tried to correct surreptitiously the snafu, only to compound the error, to say nothing of the Macy's Cellar bag that was flourished about, I suppose for authenticity's sake, even though Macy's The Cellar debuted in the 70's. Details, details, details.

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