If Robert Louis Stephenson’s Storybook world were cooked up together with a fairy tale opera like Cinderella and spiced with the comedic talents of Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress, you’d get this gumbo of a show.
For with it, Michael Oberhauser and Silver Finch Arts Collective’s have set about massaging and reinterpreting The Goose Girl fairy tale.
I had reviewed their show A Fire in the Water in 2014 Fringe. This show was much less ambitious in scale. At times its tone was a little confusing. Was it parodying fairy tales, sending up that form along with opera, or was it an homage and charming entertainment for young ones to be introduced to opera though fairy tale telling? I decided on the latter.
As a fairy tale based on The Goose Girl, it was a bit of a mash. In Oberhauser’s version the princess is not a strong commoner who stands up to the challenge of a proud prince, but instead a lovely Disney-worthy princess in a shimmering sky blue ball gown and with a heart of gold, who is sent far from home by her mother with her friend, a horse, and a magic scarf. In her journey, there is a betrayal, a swapping of roles, (when the false princess take control and our princess becomes a waiting woman and later a goose herder) and a talking horse. A King and his son, the Prince, are waiting for a true princess in a far-flung kingdom.
Once Upon a Bedtime
Opera for the young from Silver Finch Arts Collective
Details and tickets
The music was spry and had a really good performance by five musicians including a piano, flute, clarinet, viola, and cello, all under Oberhauser’s own musical direction. Oberhauser has some terrific musical sensibilities and has had a lot of fun with this piece. This first performance had some clunky pauses between musical numbers that I’m sure will be worked out in the next performances to make a more seamless operatic experience.
I was less taken with the libretto that was pretty elemental in rhyme scheme. Sometime this worked to its advantage, as in the big ensemble number “Cookie.” It was quite silly and enjoyable. I was truly salivating for cookies by the end!
Courtney Kalbacker is the princess with a silvery coloratura voice, and she charms the audience, even getting us all to sing with her. Jeffrey Grayson Gates is the King and manages to pull off his rather silly “king” suit and unelaborated character by his fine baritone sound and helping justice to prevail. Rameen Chaharbaghi, the Prince, has a simply lovely voice, and can stand there looking like a foolish string bean one moment and then prove an utterly sympathetic leading man.
Andrew Sauvageau, the faithful horse and companion to the Princess, demonstrates, as he did in the company’s 2014 Fringe show, that he has some exceptional empathic abilities and endearing physicality as an actor as well as fine singing chops. He is also one of the most gifted in this ensemble when it comes to voice blending in the ensemble numbers. (Some of the vocal balance was upset because of a combination of writing and playing, such as the Waiting Woman’s role being what we might call “broadly Broadway.”)
The tale is given a lovely frame with orchestral instrumentation and pantomime of a little girl getting ready for bed, pulling out her stuffed toys and dressing up for imaginative play. Daven Ralston is delightfully childlike as the featured Girl and carries us with her back through memories of childhood.
Bring your own sense of play with you when you come to this show with or without a child.
Note: There was some lurching and not-ready-for-prime-time chaos on Fringe’s opening day. Credit card reader mishaps and a lurking bevy of volunteers unable to remember which color star permitted one into which auditorium made it like the joke about how many volunteers does it take to greet an audience. The flurry caused most of the audience to nearly miss the show. Some people giggled. Others got hostile. One man was overheard saying, “You mean if some person over there has just bought one ticket she can go to a much shorter line but the fact I have spent $230 means I have to wait in this line?!” Hey this is Fringe, mate, the uttermost in egalitarian experience.
Once Upon a Bedtime. Music & Libretto by Thomas Pasatieri with New Music by Michael Oberhauser. New text by Shannon Berry. Music Direction by Michael Oberhauser. Stage Direction & Design by Nick Vargas. Graphics by Bob Grannan. Featuring Amy Alvino, Rameen Chaharbaghi, Jeffrey Grayson Gates, Miles Herr, Courtney Kalbacher, Tricia Lepofsky, Daven Ralston, Andrew Sauvageau, Molly Pinson Simoneau. Produced by Silver Finch Arts Collective. Review by Susan Galbraith.