Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Sparkling Production of Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow by the Lamplighters
The Merry Widow (in German, Die Lustige Witwe) premiered at Vienna's Theater an der Wein on December 30, 1905. It was not a popular success at first, but soon became a hot ticket, playing over 400 performances. New York first saw the operetta in its British version on October 21, 1907 at the New Amsterdam Theatre. The show was a smash success and soon producers were sending out touring companies for audiences across the country to hear the sparkling music. Things became "Widow" crazy with song books, shoes, hats and even corsets relating to the musical. There was even a Merry Widow cocktail that consisted of 1-½ ounces of gin and sweet vermouth with a dash of Pernod and bitters over shaved ice, with a lemon twist.
The Merry Widow has been made into several films, the best being MGM's opulent 1934 production starring Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier with that wonderful Lubitsch touch. MGM tried to repeat its success with a Cinemascope version in 1952, a tepid production starring Lana Turner. The widow is still going strong with productions taking place in various languages all over the world, and the operetta's power to enchant remains undiminished.
The Lamplighters company is presenting a splendid production featuring some wonderful singers in starring roles. The operetta is based on the 1861 French comedy The Ambassador's Attache and involves Baron Zeta (Rick Williams), the Parisian ambassador of an improvised German duchy who must obtain a marriage between the country's richest widow Anna Giavari (Pamela Hicks) and the embassy attaché Count Danilo Danilovitch, thus preventing economic disaster back at home. A subplot runs through the three-act, two and a half hour production involving Baron Zita's flirtatious wife Valencienne's (Elena Sophia Krell) illicit romance with Camille de Rosillon (Jonathan Smucker), a charming Frenchman.
Pamela Hicks (alternating with Claire Kelm) is wonderful at Anna Giavari, the merry widow. She has a golden voice and a first rate personality to carry the role. Her rendition of "Vilia" is charming. Bill Neely (alternating with Baker Peeples) has a clear baritone voice and dashing presence as Count Danilo Danilovitch. He is especially delightful singing "Chez Maxim." Both are in perfect harmony, especially in the duet "The Cavalier" and "The Merry Widow Waltz."
Rick Williams as Baron Zita perfectly hams it up with his powerful voice as the cuckold husband of Valencienne, played by Elena Sophia Krell (alternating with Jennifer Ashworth) with a lovely, delicate voice. Jonathan Smucker (alternating with Andrew Truett) portraying her would be lover Camille has a lovely neat tenor voice in his duets with Ms. Krell. Their "Borne on the breeze of April" is appealing.
Peter Weller and Jonathan Reisfeld are great buffoons as the embassy attachés. They join the men singing "Girls, Girls, Girls!" in the second act as a Rockettes number from Radio City Music Hall. The rest of the cast have distinguished voices, and the choral work is impressive.
Choreographer Jayne Zaban has devised some very nice dances for nine dancers, interspersed with the singing in the second and third acts. The "Merry Widow Waltz" scene is exquisite as the actors and dancers whirl around the stage in perfect harmony. Costumes by Beaver Bauer and Melissa Worthman are scrumptious, and Jean-Francois Revon's set designs are excellent.
The Merry Widow will play the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, from February 1 through February 4th, then travel to the Napa Opera House, 1030 Main Street, Napa, for two shows only on February 10 and 11. For tickets to the Walnut Creek performances, call 925-943-7469 and for the Napa performances, call 707-226-7372 or visit www.lamplighters.org for more information.