The most recent Mainstage Series production by the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM) musical theater program is The Boys From Syracuse. Based on William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, this light, old-fashioned musical proves to be a pleasant, if emotionally unmoving, piece of theater. The quality of this presentation is, as usual, aided greatly by the talented and well-schooled student performers.
The Boys From Syracuse is a musical comedy about the mistaken identity of two sets of twins, a pair of masters and their servants, who were separated as youngsters. When the twosomes wind up in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus as adults, the chaos begins. Confusion runs amok among wives, merchants, police, local courtesans, lovers, and even between the two pairs.
The book for the show, by legendary director George Abbott, is largely fluffy silliness with broad humor and an "ah-sweet-mystery-of-life" love story. Though unsophisticated and vague at times, Abbott's story is basically true to the spirit of the Bard's original play and efficiently told.
The musical is presented as part of the Richard Rodgers Centennial Celebration. The music by Rodgers is easy on the ears, with comfortable and flowing melodies in large supply. The lyrics by Lorenz Hart are unobtrusive and sufficiently witty. Such numbers as "Falling in Love With Love," "This Can't Be Love," and the jazzy "Sing For Your Supper" highlight the score. Musical director Roger Grodsky has worked for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization and helped to recreate the original 1938 lush orchestrations used for this production. He expertly leads a wonderful orchestra of twenty-eight musicians.
The Boys From Syracuse offers a large number of substantial roles, and the CCM students come through as always with worthwhile performances. As the twin masters, Denis Lambert (Antipholus of Syracuse) is a commendable singer, but an even better dancer, and Will Ray (Antipholus of Ephesus) displays an appropriately masculine voice and persona. Eric Daniel Santagata (Dromio of Syracuse) and Brian Sears (Dromio of Ephesus) earn lots of laughs with their goofy physical humor and energetic portrayals of the twin servants.
Despite the title of the show, it is really the female leads that have the juiciest material. Ashley Brown brings her trademark powerful vocal abilities to the role of Adriana. Angel Reda is remarkably expressive as Luciana and sings with confident beauty. Receiving the loudest cheers in the show is Betsy Wolfe as Luce. Her brassy and sultry performance is exactly what the role requires. Also deserving of praise are Josh Dazel (Sergeant), Sarah Strimel (Madam), Matt Risch (The Duke), and Leo Nouhan (Aegeon).
Director Aubrey Berg has emphasized both the farcical and sexual components of the piece, with varying results. The accentuated comedic moments work well and have the audience in stitches, but a few choices seem too campy as compared with the rest of the piece. While the show does contain many sexual references and situations, the director goes further than required in most cases. Berg does provide a suitably quick pace and fine transitions for the musical.
The choreography also has its highs and lows. As supplied by guest choreographer David Wanstreet, the dances for individuals or small groups are breathtakingly beautiful. However, the full cast numbers seem overblown. Also, there are several odes to Bob Fosse that, though cute to those who recognize the reference, seem oddly out of place.
Set Designer Paul Shortt supplies a cartoonish unit set full of various shapes and bright colors befitting of the show. The handsome costumes by Rebecca Senske and accomplished lighting by Elizabeth T. Lammer complement the overall design concept and are professionally rendered.
The Boys From Syracuse is a fun frolic of a show with a pleasant score and humorous story. CCM's talented performers shine yet again in this musical, overcoming other minor shortcomings in the production. The Boys From Syracuse ran November 21 - 24, 2002.