Ohio Light Opera Blends Early American Musical Theatre with Operetta
36th summer festival to feature such noted composers as Herbert, Berlin, Kern, and Lerner and Loewe
WOOSTER, Ohio — Ohio Light Opera returns to The College of Wooster again this summer riding the crest of last year's exceptionally successful 35th season, which featured some of the titans of the early American musical theater tradition.
"We really hit our stride with the early American musicals last summer," said Steven Daigle, artistic director of Ohio Light Opera. "They attracted a new audience for us, so we decided to add several more shows this summer while continuing the commitment to operetta on which the company was founded."
Established in 1979, Ohio Light Opera has developed a reputation for magnificent productions that encompass the best of lyric theater, particularly rare shows that were successful in their day and worthy of revival. Performances are held in Wooster's Freedlander Theatre (329 E. University St.). The season begins June 14 and continues through Aug. 9.
Headlining the schedule for 2014 is Lerner and Loewe's 1956 blockbuster "My Fair Lady." Last performed by Ohio Light Opera in 2001, Daigle said it was time to reprise the production. "'My Fair Lady' is one of our most popular shows," he said. "Its high-profile characters and popular songs have made it a fan favorite." Jacob Allen will direct the show, and Ted Christopher will again have the lead role as Henry Higgins. "It's our benchmark show," said Daigle. "It will be performed more than any other in our rotating repertoire this year."
New to Ohio Light Opera this summer is Irving Berlin's "Call Me Madam," a 1950 political satire that focuses on the role of women and their influence on politics. "It is a delightful piece, similar to (recent OLO productions) 'Connecticut Yankee' and 'Of Thee I Sing,'" said Daigle, who will direct the show. The original production featured the boisterous Ethel Merman, a role that will be played by an equally animated Alexa Devlin.
Also premiering with the company this summer will be Jerome Kern's "Oh, Lady! Lady!!" a charming piece from 1918 that, according to Daigle, influenced many future composers. "The shows are not complicated," said Daigle. "They are set in New York in 1918. The cast is young, and the show is geared to people in their early 20s." Kern borrowed several of the musical numbers or interpolated others that would become part of the show.
The fourth musical production is Victor Herbert's "Dream City and the Magic Knight." The company does a show by Herbert "every couple of years," said Daigle, but this particular one is a "real rarity," and one that required considerable research by Daigle and company consultant Michael Miller. "Over the years, many companies were interested in staging this production, but they could not find the orchestral part of it," said Daigle. "We went to the Library of Congress and managed to find it." First performed in a Vaudeville house in 1906, the production has not been done in its entirety since that opening. Daigle has rewritten portions of the script, which he says are very interesting and very funny. Longtime cast member Daniel Neer returns after a decade-long absence to take a lead role, and will be joined by Ted Christopher and Julie Wright Costa.
Rounding out the 2014 season is a trio of traditional operettas — Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus", Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" and Emmerich Kálmán's "The Little King."
"Die Fledermaus" is a Viennese production that the company does every 5-7 years. "It was one of first operettas outside of Gilbert & Sullivan produced by James Stuart (Ohio Light Opera's Artistic Director from 1979-1999)," said Daigle. "It is a fun work, full of frivolity, but also one that highlights professionally trained singing voices as well as timely humor and skilled dancing." It will be directed this summer by veteran Ted Christopher.
"The Pirates of Penzance" is a classic Gilbert & Sullivan work that makes its way to the Ohio Light Opera stage on a fairly regular basis. This year's production will be directed by Associate Artistic Director Julie Wright Costa, and feature a favorite longtime performer, Boyd Mackus, in the role of Major General.
"The Little King" has never been done as a full production in the United States, and Daigle said that the company is looking forward to having that opportunity this summer. "Our patrons have come to love Kálmán," said Daigle. "The music in this show is gorgeous, and we are confident that our audiences will really enjoy it."
In addition to the 56 performances scheduled for this summer, there will be a major symposium during the week of July 29-Aug 1, featuring international experts who will talk about various topics relating to operetta and musical theater. Tickets for the series are $75 or $25 per day. The company will also present its annual Fourth of July Pops concert on the square in downtown Wooster, as well as a concert on campus in early August.
Individual tickets are $48 for all evening (7:30 p.m.) and matinee (2 p.m.) performances. Tickets for students (ages 16-23) are $20, and admission for children (ages 3-15) is $10. Group discount rates and special packages are also available. VISA, MasterCard, and Discover Card are accepted. Additional information is available by phone (330-263-2345) or online.