Boundless talent, enthusiasm and creativity bring out The Magic of Victor Herbert Operetta Wonderland in the In Series production playing at the D.C. Scottish Rite Temple venue. Who knew that such interesting vignettes could be staged from music created over 100 years ago? The performing artists and musical stage designers have brought this treasure trove Wonderland music to life.
First of all, the classically designed building and auditorium set the scene for a regal work of art and In Series does not disappoint. The minimal setting is a park bench on the right and a beautiful grand piano slightly stage left. The maestro music director Carlos C. Rodriguez starts to play and one wonders if the vocalists will deliver from center stage. The artists dispel that simplistic notion as soon as they playfully enter to the familiar melodies of “Toyland.” One plays with a snow globe that’s prominently placed on the piano, then the overhead lighting bursts into speckles of light filling the stage. With the gorgeous voices soaring, the incredible music, the couples actually singing and whirling around the piano– we’re all suddenly in Wonderland and the magic lasts all night.
The ensemble cast of beautiful voices blend and swirl to the prolific selections of Victor Herbert tunes arranged with style and sass by Brian J. Shaw. Shaw moves the couples in and out using all exits from sides and even directly to the front of the Scottish Temple stage. There’s no standing stuck in front of a podium for this crew. They kick up their heels, they shimmy. Even Rodriguez gets his share of slinky attention as a foil in several numbers where ladies slither around him as they contemplate their loves and lives. Shaw has an ear for the notes, eye for movement and a flair for dramatic presentation. He recognizes each performer’s strong suit and wraps the songs around lovely nuggets that range from tender, hilariously fun, bold, and touching. The songs fly by since he’s pulled snippets or a single verse to get the feel of it, then swirls on to the next for a seamless repertoire.
The ladies start with “I’ve been Looking for the Perfect Man,” the fellows stomp in singing “Tramp, Tramp Tramp,” then have their say with “Every Day is Ladies Day with Me.” The songs are arranged with that kind of care where the messages, solos and duets are matched to the voices with skill and care.
Cara Gonzalez brings a warm sultry passion to her numbers, starting with “A Kiss in the Dark.” Joe Haughton has the jaunty light step of a dancer and comedic timing to pull off “Love Me, Love My Dog.” Kelly Curtin has astonishing vocal strength and range that must be seen and heard to be believed in her rendition of “The Italian Street Song” where her notes reach the stratosphere. Elise Christina Jenkins is a newcomer to the Series and brings intensity and adorable eye-rolling in her reactions to the guy’s antics. Bryan Jackson’s rock solid baritone comes from a deeply rooted place in his soul. His “Star Light, Star Bright” with him looking up to the heavens is divine. Finally Andrew Adelsberger has the commanding voice and presence to pull off both “Ladies Man” and “I Want What I Want When I Want It” with fun and hijinks.
Once Carlos C. Rodriguez gives his powerful virtuoso solo piano performance of “March of the Toys” – yet another show stopper that must be seen to be believed—and the act maintains that same intensity, one wonders what could possibly follow. Remarkably, the second act is just as entertaining. The gentleman enter in full dress tuxedos and tails and the ladies’ gowns and dresses are ratcheted up in absolutely loveliness, kudos to Donna Breslin. Shaw’s direction and musical direction by Rodriguez assure heartfelt interaction and memorable moments for an enriching experience.
The precious Legacy of Carla Huber, outgoing founder and Artistic Director is the intimacy of opera that unfolds directly in front of us providing an experience like no other in town. This Operetta Wonderland brings us all around the piano with the sparkling lights playing with the snow globe. It’s the perfect fit for the holidays filled with the charm of music that helped heal nations’ wounds in earlier times and in the hands of these gifted artists still has enough to keep us laughing and dancing with joy.
Operetta Wonderland: The Magic of Victor Herbert Based on Music of Victor . Directed by Brian J. Shaw . Cast: Kelly Curtin, Cara Gonzalez, Elise Christina Jenkins, Andrew Adelsberger, Joe Haughton, Bryan Jackson . Music Director— Carlos C. Rodriguez . Set Designer — Jonathan Dahm Robertson . Lighting— Marianne Meadows . Costumes – Donna Breslin . Stage Manager— Cindy King . Produced by In Series . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
This show closed December 2, 2018.