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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


The Glorious Ones

Also see Ann's reviews of Altar Boyz and Missionary Position

The Glorious Ones
Julyana Soelistyo in center, and (clockwise from left) John Kassir, Paul Schoeffler, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Jenny Powers, Jeremy Webb and David Patrick Kelly
A sweet morsel of a musical is available for tasting at the O'Reilly Theatre through May 20. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's The Glorious Ones, based on the novel by Francine Prose, is set in Italy in the early 17th century and follows the story of a commedia dell'arte performing troupe. The members of the group have different backgrounds, different reasons for joining and different goals (some represent stock commedia dell'arte characters and are named as such). Their personal stories and the historical importance of this performing arts form are told through narration, commedia dell'arte style performance, traditional dialogue and song.

Flaminio Scala (Paul Schoeffler) is the troupe's leader, and his story is the most poignant. His love for the art is strong, as is his desire to instill his devotion in others in order for the art to live on. Schoeffler is excellent in the role. He has a strong, expressive voice and a mischievous twinkle in the eye which illustrates his passion for performance and for the ladies. Flaminio is literally and spiritually the throughline of the show. Audiences love him and fellow performers seek to join his company, but he is not a young man. He must have trust that the younger performers will carry on the spirit of the art form, even if some details are replaced by new trends. Schoeffler effectively takes Flaminio on this journey. His rendition of the sincere "I Was Here" is a highlight of the show.

Natalie Venetia Belcon plays the voluptuous and lusty Columbina, Flaminio's leading lady. The love between the two characters is visible, their mutual understanding is deep and their sensuality sets a tone for the bawdy side of the show. Belcon matches Schoeffler in performance - her characterization is solid and her singing is captivating. A stand-out song for her is "My Body Wasn't Why," as Columbina seeks to remind us that it is not always her body that draws attention.

Every part has been cast well. Julyana Soelistyo is exquisite as the diminutive Armanda. Her flair for comedy is in the spotlight during "Amand's Tarantella," a very nice melding of song and choreography (Graciela Daniele, who also directs). Jeremy Webb and Jenny Powers represent the next stage in the transition of improvisational comedy, in their roles as the youthful Francesco and Isabella. John Kassir is the purveyor of elixirs as Dottore and David Patrick Kelly is the traditional miserly Pantalone. All provide the required vocal support with great accomplishment.

The Glorious Ones seeks to go a bit further than just to teach us what commedia dell'arte is, or was, by providing a bit of an epilogue pointing out the effects of the art form on comedy through the current day. I'm not sure the audience needs to be led so directly and specifically to this conclusion. I would have preferred a more subtle reference to modern day, or none at all. There is also one anachronistic local reference I found jarring (it got the expected chuckle from some of the audience, however). And I hesitate to say, because maybe it's the power of suggestion, but it seemed to me that at least one song is a bit too Ragtimey for the era. For fans of Ahrens and Flaherty's opening numbers, there's a great title song here as well. All in all, the entire presentation, dressed well in costumes and masks by Mara Blumenfeld, succeeds in chronically the personal story and the grander story aptly and entertainingly.

Dan Ostling's set is appropriately simple - only a primitive performing stage is necessary - though I think a bit more indication of the outdoors would be nice. The excellent orchestra led by Thomas Murray sits above the troupe's stage (similar to the staging of the Public's Cabaret earlier in the season) and provides beautiful accompaniment through Michael Starobin's orchestrations.

One viewing (and hearing) of this world premiere isn't enough - I look forward to returning before the show ends its run.

The world premiere production of The Glorious Ones, clocking in at about 100 minutes in one act, continues at the O'Reilly Theatre for Pittsburgh Public Theatre through May 20. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org or the box office.


Photo: Ric Evans


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-- Ann Miner

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