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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


The Student Prince

The Student Prince
Ed Dixon and Chad Johnson
Pittsburgh CLO ends the season on a fun, melodic and exhilarating note. An operetta featuring tuneful music by Sigmund Romberg (book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly), The Student Prince has been produced by the CLO seven times previously, and it ranked high in the 2009 Audience Survey (the first one I've voted for that actually made it), so I guess it is truly a Pittsburgh favorite. There are some winning songs in this score, and the production has been cast with expert singers. Not surprisingly, the plot is thin (though you may not predict the ending), but the way director and choreographer James Brennan has staged the piece, it really flies by. And you're never far from another beautiful song.

Set in 1800s Germany, The Student Prince follows Prince Karl Franz of Karlsberg as he is led out of the castle and into the "real world" by his tutor Dr. Engel. They travel to Heidelberg, where the prince will attend his mentor's alma mater. Most of the show takes palace at the Inn of the Three Golden Apples, where the young male students drink beer, sing, and flirt with waitresses too sweet to be called wenches. Prince Karl adapts to "normal life" with great enthusiasm, and of course falls in love—but ultimately, the royal life beckons.

As Prince Karl, young tenor Chad Johnson delivers the songs wonderfully. He may be a little stiff in his acting, but the voice is more important here, and he is paired well with the more versatile soprano Jacquelynne Fontaine, a charming and vivacious actress. Another plus in this production is the casting of Ed Dixon as Dr. Engel. Ever the pro, Dixon makes a small role a highlight and really tugs the heartstrings with the nostalgic "Golden Days." It's a sad moment when we find out that Dr. Engel died between scenes one and two of the second act.

The characters Herr Lutz (valet to the Prince) and Hubert (valet to Herr Lutz) have no purpose beyond comic relief, but two superb comedic actors, Tim Hartman and Patrick Richwood, fill the bill and are audience favorites. Richwood in particular finds the perfect level of comedy, right between zany and over the top, and his physical shtick is excellent in this stand out performance.

As another plus in a production of plusses is the ensemble of singer-actors who shine brightly, the men in particular. Playing lackeys and students, they are not relegated to the background and thankfully so, as they sing harmoniously and and act in full character. The rousing "Drinking Song" is very well done by this chorus of fine voices.

The piece is completed by charming and elaborate sets straight out of the CLO Construction Shop (design by Robert Bingham), and another top-level performance by Tom Helm helming the lush-sounding CLO orchestra.

The Student Prince continues at the Benedum Center through August 8. For schedule and tickets, call 412-456-6666, visit http://www.pittsburghclo.org or or the Box Office at Theater Square.


Photo: Matt Polk


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-- Ann Miner

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