Friday, 25 June 1999

The Merry Widow, 25 June 1999

Music by Franz Lehar
Original book and lyrics by Victor Leon & Leo Stein; English version by Christopher Hassall
 State Theatre from June 24 until July, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Franz Lehar's, The Merry Widow, typifies the sensual, cultured, fun-loving reputation of the Viennese. It is a bright and cheerful romance that was his only hit.

The Merry Widow is a light opera which took the western world by storm in the three years after its premiere in December 1905 at the Theater an der Wien. It has more singable tunes, peppy lyrics and romance per square inch than Hollywood in the 30's.

This production, directed by Rodney Fisher and produced by Simon Galaher and Essgee, responsible for Pirates of Penzance and the less successful Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. These shows concentrated on entertainment rather than singing quality .

Marina Prior plays Hanna Glavari, the rich widow from the Eastern European principality Pontevedro that Lehar modelled on Montenegro. The economy of the country relies on her millions so Baron Zeta, (Max Gillies ) ambassador to Paris, is compelled to marry her to a Pontevedran despite the bevy of Parisian seducers pursuing her.

Prior is pert as the widow and sings most songs prettily although the normally bewitching, poignant Vilia lacked control and strength. As her past lover, the rakish Count Danilo, John O'May is sexy and charming and can certainly sell a song. Their duet "Love Unspoken" was effective.

Two comic roles are played superbly. Gillies is sweetly foolish as the Baron. The highlight was Grant Piro as Njegus, the Baron's gauche, twitching secretary and hilarious in his rendition of "Gay Parissienne" in the style of Joel Gray.

Gallaher sang well as de Rosillon but Helen Donaldson as his secret lover, lacked presence and was the only role with a broad Aussie accent.

The English version of Leo and Stein's book is cleverly translated by Christopher Hassall and additional dialogue by Rodney Fisher adds a contemporary flavour.

 Stage design  by Zac Brown is exceptional, particularly in Act 1. The turquoise and lavendar tones of the tilting glazed dome over a steep stair were luminous. and Brown's costumes were gloriously frivolous.

The orchestra conducted by Vladimir Kamirski was commendable apart from some poor entrances in Act 1. Choreography by Andris Toppe was witty and the full male chorus number, "Girls!", with high kicks and Swan Lake chorus line, was a crowd pleaser.

This is an entertaining show to rival the other contemporary musicals in town.

By Kate Herbert

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