Friday, September 16, 2011

Bring on the Dancing Girls: Crazy for You by George and Ira Gershwin at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and Donizetti's The Elixir of Love at The Coliseum, St Martin's Lane

My parents hooked me up to American film musicals in the 1950s. I can understand why Jonathan Miller set his 2010 production of The Elixir of Love , now in revival at The Coliseum, in that era. There's a nostalgic connection for elderly opera-goers, and even younger audience members would know of Marilyn Monroe, if only from Andy Warhol. The female lead, Sarah Tynan, was a Marilyn look-alike.

When I pay £19 for a seat in the balcony, I expect a great production, and ENO doesn't let you down. We're talking London's biggest theatre, apart from the O2, and I didn't want a repeat of last year's Carmen, when I couldn't tell who was singing. So I took my binoculars.

The set works well - a revolving wedge-shaped diner in a desert landscape, with a petrol pump outside. There's even room for a pink and white cadillac to be driven onstage when the snake-oil salesman hits town with his cure for unrequited love. Baritone Andrew Shore is outstanding in the part.

Garrison Keillor, of Lake Woebegone fame, is cited by the programme notes as an influence. You can see why: there's down-home feeling, reinforced when when the despairing male lead thinks of joining the army. It contrasts with the overlay of glamour represented by the costumes and the Elvis-style cavorting in front of the diner's stage mic.

The words of the libretto appear above the stage on a kind of autocue, directed at the audience. I haven't heard this opera sung in Italian but the translation, given an American tang, raised a laugh and the opera is billed as a comic one. I'd say the lyrics were weakest part of the production , although they didn't interfere with the famous tenor aria 'La Furtiva Lacrima' in the second act, the news that 'Uncle Joe had kicked the bucket' strikes a crude note that's fairly typical.

I'd had high hopes since I saw Jonathan Miller's production of The Mikado, and before that La Boheme. But The Elixir was Gilbert and Sullivan without Gilbert

Crazy for You had no such problems, being a genuine example although set much earlier, in 1930. The storyline deals with a stage-struck young man whose mother wants him to be a banker. When his job is to foreclose a theatre in Nevada showbusiness takes precedent and it becomes a 'let put the show on here' affair.

The dancing girls and the male chorus were excellent and the principals are competent, with Bobby Childs, as the male lead, sparking off Claire Foster as feisty Polly. Within the walls of the diner in The Elixir the best that can be managed is a kind of hippy-hippy shake.

The failure of The Elixir to convince as a musical is partly because the opera score doesn't allow for dance routines.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed both productions. I even like the bit at the Open Air Theatre when the sweepers come on with towels to dry the stage after a shower. Since the Coliseum would be dancing-girl friendly, it's a shame the show there didn't have any. I wonder if there's an opera that does have dancing girls....


JohnnyFox said...

lovely to come across your writings - we both scribe for 'remotegoat' ... but an opera with dancing girls? In Puccini's Le Villi they dance literally to the death !!

Sheila Cornelius said...

Love reviewing for Remotegoat, and pleased to hear from a fellow scribe.

Thanks for commenting, Johnny. Haha! I wonder if those Puccini dancers are doing the tarantella. It only occurred to me that sometimes one genre doesn't translate so easily into another because I'd seen the two close together. It produces a a kind of hybrid, as happened here. I can't really imagine Jonathan Miller as a big fan of American musicals, but I was happy to see him experiment.